How to Deal with Three Types of Poor Performers: Primadonnas, Slackers and Incompetents

The Bad Attitude

This employee could be a brilliant technician or project manager, but the chip on his shoulder renders him impossible to work with. When Kris Paper, senior vice president and CIO for Primedia Business Magazines & Media, joined the company in 2002 and was in the process of assessing the skills of her staff, one longtime employee unabashedly proclaimed that he had no IT skills and had "somehow landed in IT." The worker insinuated that he deserved a job in IT by virtue of his long tenure with the company. Paper did not waste time in eliminating his position. "If they don’t have the right value system, they’re not worth the investment. I can train the skill, but I can’t train the values," she says.

The Slacker

Characteristics of the stereotypical slacker include rumpled clothes, bed-head and—more to the point for an employer—tardiness, slipshod work, and a tendency to procrastinate and do only the bare minimum. Bill Haser, CIO of Tenneco Automotive, describes a careless systems analyst who failed to follow development processes or document changes he made to systems. Haser says that while 80 percent of the time the man’s changes worked, 20 percent of the time they "ended up screwing something up." When Haser and this employee’s manager confronted him about his feckless work, they learned that he didn’t think the procedures were important because he didn’t understand them. He thought they created needless work. Haser and the manager explained to the worker the importance of the IT organization’s development processes and showed him that if he toed the line, he’d save five times as much time and effort in ongoing support. The systems analyst agreed to follow the company’s development process to a T—and saved his job.

The Incompetent

Sometimes, poor performance isn’t a choice. Sheleen Quish, global CIO and vice president of corporate marketing for U.S. Can, describes a tech support employee who was personable and possessed with a Little Engine That Could attitude ("I think I can, I think I can"), but who overestimated his skills. Because of his positive attitude, Quish and his immediate supervisor accepted that he was a slow learner and chose to be patient with him—until the day he accidentally caused all hell to break loose at the company.

Without authorization or the knowledge of anyone else, the tech support worker came into the office one weekend and installed antivirus software on all employees’ desktops, including the CEO’s. But he did such a lax job that he wound up compromising people’s PCs. As soon as employees arrived at work the following Monday, they began flooding the IT help desk with angry calls. Quish’s entire department spent all morning trying to figure out what had gone wrong. Eventually, the inept worker stepped forward and told Quish what he had done. She asked him several times to explain why. He had no explanation. She told him to take the rest of the day off and to come in the next day with an answer to her question. He arrived late and still had no answer for what he had done. Quish showed him the door.

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Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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