Positive workplace cultures can be double edged swords. People who love where they work often do so because they love the people they work with. They have fun together. They respect each other. They consider each other friends, which is great on so many levels, and not so great when we need to address underperformance.

The Australian Government Fair Work Ombudsman classifies underperformance as one of four things:

  • Unsatisfactory work performance (failure to perform duties to the standard required)
  • Non-compliance with workplace policies, rules or procedures
  • Unacceptable behavior in the workplace
  • Disruptive or negative behavior that impacts co-workers.

A great friend of mine, Georgia Murch, author of Fixing Feedback, aptly calls this….being a dick! (Classic!) Too often we let small things slide, because, well, they’re small things. Mild lateness; corridor back-chat; rolling eyes. But these small things stack up fast and pretty soon, we have the proverbial snowball.

We’re not addressing underperformance quickly enough – and this lowers the standard for everyone.

Not addressing underperformance quickly enough is like letting someone with muddy shoes walk all over your pristine carpet. It’s unsightly, difficult to clean, and often leaves a stain.

Sometimes we forgive unacceptable or disruptive behaviour because we see these people as rainmakers. We think we can’t do without them.  But in fact, a (2015) Harvard Business School study by Michael Housman and Dylan Minor of more than 50,000 employees across 11 firms found that “superstar performer – one that models desired values and delivers consistent performance” brings in more than US$5,300 in cost savings to a company. Avoiding a toxic hire, or letting one go quickly, delivers US$12,500 in cost savings.

The Global Head of Talent at Atlassian, the $47 billion Australian software powerhouse, calls these people “brilliant jerks”… “people who are extremely bright and talented with respect to the way they execute their role but aren’t necessarily concerned with the impact they have on others”.

Atlassian’s performance review system has changed to now place equal weight across three areas: job skills, impact on other team members, and living the company values. Atlassian says the change will “more fairly measure people on how they bring their whole self to work”.

Our General of the Commonwealth of Australia – The honourable David Hurley – told us that “the standard you walk past is the standard you accept”.  He was referring to unacceptable discrimination against women in the defence forces and was actively empowering the entire institution to make a stand for change.

Being a leader means not walking past. It means holding ourselves and others accountable to higher standards. It means stepping outside our comfort zones and empowering ourselves with the tools and language to nip underperformance in the bud.

If you want to take your leadership to a new level, I’d love to talk to you.

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