Fixes for Your Underperforming IT Staff

So, how do you find, fix or fire your poor performers? That’s the question we asked in the Nov. 1, 2003, cover story (see article at www.cio.com/printlinks). We then asked Dick Grote, president of Grote Consulting, a management consultancy specializing in performance appraisal, to answer your questions online. Here’s a sample of what you asked and what he answered.

Q: Are there approaches to get people to face the reality that they are not as good as they think they are?

A: Remember this: It’s your opinion that counts, not theirs. You’re the boss. The purpose of the conversation about their performance (or lack of it) is not to get their agreement. They’ll never agree. The purpose is to get their understanding. The best way is to state your opinion bluntly: "I’ve got some bad news for you, Sam. I’ve been reviewing your performance and, quite frankly, it isn’t very good. Let’s talk about what you need to do if you want to keep your job." That’s a perfect opening.

Q: In our office, the slacker is the boss’s friend. How can I address this?

A: Make it in your boss’s best interest to support your style of management. Describe to the boss how the individual’s monkey business is making the boss look bad. Then offer your solution, maybe a discussion with you and your boss confronting the individual, or your boss’s agreement to back you up when you lower the boom. But whatever it may be, make sure to get your boss in your corner.

Q: Management thinks that in the best interest of the team, all members?in spite of their performance levels?should get equal opportunities. But as a worker, lack of managerial recognition kills my morale.

A: What you’ve described is one of the primary manifestations of managerial cowardice?the belief that a manager should treat everyone the same. Those who benefit from this treatment are the weeds of the organization’s garden, and when they discover that their manager isn’t going to do any more for the best performers than for his worst, they get on the phone and call all their weedy little friends to come down to the employment office. The primary job of management is to discriminate. Not based on race or age or sex, but on performance. Good managers play favorites?they heap rewards on those who get the job done.

Q: Within a forced-ranking system, how do you compare contributions of a DBA, developer and network administrator? Their roles are different, but they must be treated as IT employees when it comes to ranking.

A: Make sure that the criteria you’ve chosen for your forced-ranking system cover more than just how well they do the various tasks listed in their job descriptions. Is teamwork important to your company? Make sure you use that as a criterion. Is having a positive attitude a competency you value? Put that among your forced-ranking criteria. Too often, organizations put up with insolence and attitude because the person has terrific technical skills. Forced-ranking systems can help you spot and remove those who cover their technical tracks but make life miserable for those around them.

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Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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