Killing good performers

Wednesday, 12 October 2011 02:53 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Most companies are very good at positioning their façade and corporate image to attract talented people for employment. Several companies have good on-boarding policies and induction processes and so they are capable of making the new candidates feel happy that they made the right decision applying for the job.

They also spread the sweet fragrance of ‘belonging’ across the new recruits. Lots of money is spent in the sourcing and selection process and, after much search and scrutiny, the so-called-right candidates are recruited.

These candidates get off to a flying start; very enthusiastic, hopeful and wanting to impress their bosses. They manage their induction period well, go on through the probation period without problems, get confirmed in their employment and somewhere within the first two to three years of post confirmation… Boom! Things start going very wrong.

What do we do that ruins perfectly good employees?

nFail to trust them

The way to get employees to trust you is to be the first to trust. If you don’t trust your people, then how can you expect them to trust you? I recognise that this takes some risk, but the biggest risk is to not take risks. People want to be trusted, they will try their best to live up to your trust, but you have to be the first to trust. Why not give them an ‘A+’ rating and encourage them to zealously protect it?

When you refer to your son and tell your friends that he is a good boy, he always tries hard to become better. Parents, this is not new to you. You have seen it happen. I knew a father who always condemned his rather mischievous small son, calling him an idiot, fool or donkey because he always wanted to play rather than study. This father used to say that his son would grow up to be an idiot because he didn’t like to study. Guess what happened when this boy grew up? Well, he became a perfect idiot, living up to the anticipation of his father.

nBe unclear in your expectations

Expectations are spoken or unspoken, met or unmet. How can an expectation be met if it hasn’t been spoken? Don’t put your employees in the position where they have to guess what you expect from them. This sets them up for potential failure. Be clear, spell it out and engage them in a dialogue on both your expectations of them and their expectations of you.

This is exactly what I do when I recruit persons reporting to me. I start our working relationship by getting the new recruit to my room and, in an informal manner, making the person feel comfortable, I spell out my expectations from him/her pertaining to work-related, attitude and behaviour-related outputs. I then ask the other person to let me know what he or she expects from me as a boss. All I have to do is to marry the expectations. We, therefore, get on to a fine start to the working relationship.

nConstantly change rules and procedures

Constancy of purpose is one of Dr. Deming’s Fourteen Points. I am not suggesting that we should not change and adapt to changing situations, but maintain enough consistency that people can learn the ‘rules of the road’ before we change direction. Rules help people to find direction and methods. They stabilise the ‘way of doing things’. If rules and procedures are changed all the time, people will disregard the intensity or importance of such changes and are sure to get turned off.

Never praise, but always punish

I heard a speaker comment that “a pat on the back is only a couple of vertebrae away from a kick in the butt.” Study after study has shown that employees want feedback and recognition more than they want more money. Feedback means if someone has made a mistake, we correct it, but it also means that we never walk past an opportunity to recognise someone’s good work. Don’t let the recent mistake of your subordinate cloud all the good things he/she has done earlier in the year.

A lack of sleep kills your employees in three ways

1.Productivity decreases dramatically

Employee brains work much harder for way smaller results. It’s as if you’re dragging your feet trying to run a 100-mile marathon. A study explained the phenomenon: Researchers expected to find only sluggish activity in the brains of healthy young people who took a simple word test after staying awake for 35 hours. They found instead that while parts of the sleep-deprived brains churned with activity during the test, another part of the brain – the language centre – shut down.

You ruin employee creativity

Have you tried working 10-hours hours straight on some project? Chances are: after the first two hours, your creativity plummeted. When you force employee brains to work continuously without sufficient breaks, they’ll use up their brain-tanks. If you don’t let them refill those tanks with sleep, you’ll exhaust their brainpower to be creative, says Harvard Med Dr. Charles A. Czeisler.

If they average four hours of sleep a night for four or five days, they develop the same level of cognitive impairment as if they had been awake for 24 hours – equivalent to legal drunkenness. Within 10 days the level of impairment is the same as if you’ve gone 48 hours without sleep. This greatly lengthens reaction time, impedes judgment and interferes with problem solving.

2.You cause quick burnout

The annual turnover rate at a typical investment firm hovers around 25%. Lack of sleep serves as the prime ingredient to business burnout. The Kenyans can’t run never-ending marathons; what makes you think your employees can?

Six ways to kill employee morale

1.Empty promises

Get a head-start on employee morale-murdering before a new hire’s first day on the job. Snag the best of the postgraduate work force with lofty promises of imminent raises, promotions and tasty perks. Thereafter, conveniently ‘forget’ uttering these promises. Nothing obliterates employee morale quite like deceit and disappointment.


Bring the ‘teacher’s pet’ dynamic into the workplace by treating a select few like God’s gift to earth. For maximum morale-killing effect, bestow your preferential grace on employees with a poor work ethic and lazy performance. Lavish your brown-nosing protégés with honour and rewards. The morale of your clean-nosed, self-respecting employees will nosedive, along with their productivity and your credibility

3.Egregious rules, rabid enforcement

Establish a stringent workplace rule code with no business purpose. Mandate that women wear skirts and heels and men wear neckties at all times, even on lunch breaks or overtime all-nighters, because comfort isn’t professional. Prohibit personal items on desks, because family photos are distracting. Impose severe consequences for violators. Your demoralised minions will be cowed into complacency (and searching for new jobs) in no time.

4.Be a selective spendthrift

Skimp on office equipment that employees need to do their jobs efficiently, while keeping the purse strings open for non-essentials that benefit yours truly. Dole out computers, internet accounts, even pens, as if you were the king of benevolence, each item a gift that could put the whole company over the financial edge. Recline in your custom desk throne and chastise employees for slowed work output (never mind that your standards are unachievable due to their measly resources). Adios, morale.

5.Be a devout nepotist

Practice blind nepotism. Hire a never-do-well family member to a lump-sum contract. Sit him in a cushy office with views (to pass the hours that he is actually there). Give him a fancy job title, the meaning of which he doesn’t know and doesn’t care except for the fact that it makes him superior to his co-workers and they know it, too. It becomes unbearable for a person when he knows much more than his/her boss but yet, has to serve under a lesser mortal.

6.Sing their replaceability

The single dumbest way to kill employees’ morale is to proclaim that they are replaceable at your whim. Remind them of their inferiority and worthlessness. For every one of them, you declare, there are countless better applicants eager to usurp their positions. The spectre of replaceability is an equal-opportunity morale-snuffer; spare no one, from your secretary to your most seasoned associates. Make people feel that that their good work accounts for nothing because they are paid a salary anyway. Let your people feel that they are an easily expendable commodity.

10 sure ways to kill employee trust

Some managers and supervisors unwittingly behave in ways that make them seem untrustworthy in the eyes of their employees. Trust is essential. It is difficult to acquire and once it is lost it’s even harder to regain. The best leaders create a culture of trust by freely sharing information and regularly asking for feedback and input from their employees.

Most importantly, highly effective leaders live their values and model the behaviour they want to see in their people. Managers don’t always realise that seemingly small things like being late for meetings has a big impact on employee perception.

The killing process

1. Say one thing and do another: If you don’t think your employees aren’t watching every move you make and every word you utter — think again. Actions speak louder than words.

2. Talk more than listen: It’s no coincidence that the most ineffective managers are lousy listeners. They love to interrupt their subordinates and try to show that they know everything around them.

3. Not acting on employee suggestions: When you ask for ideas and suggestions for improving your business but don’t acknowledge their value, it won’t be long before your employees keep those great ideas to themselves. Many employee suggestion schemes have fallen flat as a result of this.

4. Poor time management: Some managers confuse being overbooked and crazy-busy with being effective. If you aren’t spending at least 50% of your time working with your employees, you need to take a look at your priorities. Have you seen a productive street dog? I guess not! Have you seen a busy street dog? Of course you have. These dogs run aimlessly on the streets with no purpose and no reason. What do they produce at the end of the day? Zero results… but yet, they are very busy. The next time you feel you are busy, think twice.

5. Being moody: Employees look for consistency in their leaders. Being in high spirits one day and in the dumps the next, make your employees uneasy.

6. Not walking the talk: When you opt to do the most expedient thing (even occasionally) instead of the right thing in your dealings with customers and other departments, your employees will follow your lead. Practice what you preach.

7. Being late: Expecting others to be on time and then showing up late is disrespectful. If “mutual respect” is a core value, be a good example by arriving at meetings a few minutes early and ending meetings on time.

8. Not being “present”: When you are meeting with employees one-to-one make sure that your mind isn’t someplace else. When you look distracted you are telling that employee, “I have other things on my mind that are more important than spending time with you.” Keep your mind on the discussion. Be focused.

9. Breaking appointments: Believe it or not, most of your employees look forward to regular conversations with you. Hold one-to-one meeting times with your employees sacred. Adopt the good practice of ‘start-up’ time and ‘ending’ time. Above all, work within the planned time frame.

10. Only talking about business: The best managers spend a few minutes a day socialising with their employees. If you asked them what individual employees do in their free time, the ages of their kids, they could tell you in a heartbeat.

(The writer is the Managing Director and CEO, McQuire Rens Group of Companies. He has held regional responsibilities of two multinational companies of which one was a Fortune 500 company. He carries out consultancy assignments and management training in Dubai, India, Maldives, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. He is a much sought-after business consultant and corporate management trainer in Sri Lanka.)






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