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Success Secrets | Reversing the course of a slide

Success Secrets | Reversing the course of a slide
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First Published: Sun, Mar 09 2008. 11 59 PM IST

Jack and Suzy Welch
Jack and Suzy Welch
Updated: Sun, Mar 09 2008. 11 59 PM IST
What do you do about an employee whose performance has declined from stellar to mediocre? I have tried talking to this person, but six months have passed with no improvement and he is beginning to affect the team. Is it time to let him go?
—Anonymous, Nairobi, Kenya
Jack and Suzy Welch
Six months of warning seems a little brief for a person who once turned in stellar results, but still, we’d have to answer yes to your question.
You’re on to one of the incontrovertible facts of organizational life. It is very hard to reverse the course of a slider—and that’s what you have, a high achiever who has checked out—before they begin to suck the team into their negative energy field and drag it down with their poor example.
Indeed, we’ve seen it time and time again: Sliders pollute.
We’re not suggesting, of course, that managers dismiss all their sliders at dawn. Sometimes, high performers do hit a wall and need time to regroup.
They might be working through a personal crisis, such as sickness or a divorce. Or they might be bored, and sincerely need your help finding more challenge within their jobs.
But, temporary sliders are the exception. Typically, these former achievers enter into their descent for the long haul.
And the reason is quite simple: They think they can. That is, they perceive their previous glory protects them. And often, they’re not wrong.
Many organizations do have employees who are sacred cows—the scientist who, 15 years ago, discovered the breakthrough compound upon which the company is built; the art director who once won the industry’s biggest creative award.
There’s the slider whose protective armour is the company’s largest client, which loves him for a terrific idea he had five years ago, and the slider whose claim to fame is that she was there, taking customer orders and volunteering for midnight pizza runs, when the company was first started in a garage.
Whatever the reason, sliders usually begin their progression imperceptibly. One day, they start contributing a little less and usually start showing up a little less too. Nothing happens—there may be a few hushed conversations, but no real consequences—and so the downward spiral continues.
Eventually, the sliders’ under-performance and the organization’s lack of reaction become embedded, and the sliders land in an awkward bubble of silence and acceptance.
The problem with this dynamic, of course, is that sliders are often organizational heroes, especially to old-timers, and their behaviour sets the tone. For newer employees, who aren’t as familiar with a slider’s past glories, the impact can be even more damaging.
Sliders show them that the organization permits employees who are do-nothings. Either way, a slider’s mood and under-performance can really change the pace and rhythm of a business. They round off the edge you need to win.
It doesn’t sound like you’re there yet with your slider, but chances are you will be before long. So, yes, let him go now, so he can find an organization that re-energizes him.
And know that in doing so, you’re sending a critical message to the organization. When it comes to performance, the past may be nice to recall, but nothing matters like the present.
This month, after nine years of education in the US, I return to my family company, where my father has asked me to lead a major turnaround. Most of the upper management team remembers me as a boy of 17. What advice can you give me?
—Alister Aranha, Dubai, UAE
First and foremost, recognize that the management team which remembers you “as a boy” knows full well that you are an adult now—and you’re back to take over.
Indeed, they’ve been expecting your return for a long time. And most of them, if not all, are ready to fall into line.
For that, perhaps some credit goes to your hierarchical culture. But even if you weren’t returning to West Asia, employees at most family companies know the score. You’re the boss now.
Our advice: Do not go heavy on establishing your authority. Instead, spend your time listening to your new team, demonstrating how eager you are to hear their perspectives and engage their intellect.
Let them know you are truly open to new ideas. Show them you are not a know-it-all, but a learn-it-all.
Look, if you’re going to turn your company around in the next few years, your new job is really very straightforward.
You’ve got your people’s bodies. Now, win their hearts and minds.
©2008/by NYT syndicate
Write to Jack & Suzy
Jack and Suzy are eager to hear about your career dilemmas and challenges at work, and look forward to answering some of your questions in future columns. Jack and Suzy Welch are the authors of the international best-seller, Winning. Campaign readers can email them questions at winning@livemint.com. Please include your name, occupation and city. Only select questions will be answered.
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First Published: Sun, Mar 09 2008. 11 59 PM IST