Terrible Reasons For Hanging On To A Poor Performer In Retail
I have shared this in a previous article I have written, but back many years ago I stepped into a role with a very challenging business. The team was severely under-developed. The region’s business metrics were ranked in the bottom 2% [yep…the bottom 2%] across all business levers. It was not pretty. I was traveling with my boss one day, immediately after taking on the role, and we were talking about the business and my plan of action and I was asking him questions about my predecessor trying to understand the team and what, potentially, I would have to counter to what they learned/experienced. One of the questions I asked was how long the person I replaced had been there since they were so terrible. 24 years was the answer…but she’d admitted to “checking out” two years before they finally separated with her. What? Huh?
Last week I had the pleasure of speaking with a VP of Stores for a national retail organization who is struggling a little bit with their District Manager level employees. Out of 25 Districts:
- Only 11 Districts are producing positive comps to LY only 8 Districts are producing results to their Plan
- Only 10 Districts are fully staffed and three are severely under-staffed
- Only 4 Districts show engagement over 70%
I asked what the average tenure of the District Managers is: 3 years. In the poorest performing Districts the tenure is 6+ years. Wait…What? I asked questions around training and development as well as the growth opportunities afforded to the District Managers. What their Regional Managers role looks like? Who were the most recent hires? What their PA’s looked like for their teams? The average length in position was 2.2 years – 100% external hires. We had a great dialog about change and some ideas that will have an immediate impact for the business and the team. But…
These issues really got me thinking about why retail organizations insist on hanging onto poor performers. Retailers are dropping like flies and because organizations aren’t compelled through performance guidance, training/development, or career path opportunities that all levels of team members deliver greatness – it’s just not happening. Why? No question, letting people go is a painful experience for everybody. And the hyper-litigious society with live in doesn’t make things any easier [just read Eric Meyers, The Employer Handbook Blog] but, clearly, retailers cannot continue with this same process and accept under-performers to take up space in their organization and negatively impact their brand and their future outlook.
Times are precarious – retail organizations just can’t afford to hang on to workers who aren’t delivering results. Those people drag down productivity, brand image, destroy morale, drive out your top performers, and make it impossible to capture top talent in the market. It begs the question, why are some organizations so reticent about separating these employees? The following is a sampling of the wacky rationalizations supervisors use to avoid taking action — and why those arguments are simply weak excuses:
Most Common Reasons In Retail
Let’s cross our fingers and maybe they’ll improve: Hand’s down, this is the most common reason I hear from senior and executive level retailers. If you want to ensure your area of responsibility absolutely doesn’t improve – make sure you implement the always losing ‘strategy of hope’ – if your employee was going to improve, wouldn’t they have done so before things got this far? Seeing themselves on the bottom of every retail report weekly and quarterly? Seeing open positions and time to fill exceed that of their business partners or of reasonable business practices? Having endless calls with HR because of communication issues with their team? If the proper developmental guidance and coaching steps have been taken and standards still aren’t being met, it’s time to take action.
Love the one you’re with: This is a common challenge around holiday time and I have heard it ad nauseum in retail. This is for the people who fail to take reasonable action with under-performers or toxic employees during the year to buy themselves an additional few month of not sourcing talent (because terrible leaders cannot source great talent – they are lucky if they can possibly source “good enough” talent). People that don’t know what right looks like are the ones you will hear this from most often. This fails because it is usually heard at the most critical times in the business – which is disaster for the customer experience, for the business metrics, and for the team.
This could get ugly. What if they cry or become physical?: This is one I hear a lot as well. While this may be a legitimate concern if you have not been coaching or communicating with the employee, it’s certainly not a reason to delay termination. On the contrary, it’s a reason to get it over with and avoid prolonging the problems. Most of these concerns stem from the leader’s inability to provide – and discomfort with – performance guidance. There should absolutely be no surprises to employees when it comes to their performance, good or bad. Most emotion stems from the surprise of the event. People usually know when they aren’t fulfilling their duties, meeting their objectives, or if they have violated policies – if you are giving immediate, in-the-moment feedback [and following up poor performance with correct documentation] – there will be no surprises and a small concern for outbursts of emotion.
Less Common But Often Used Excuses
But they have flashes of brilliance, interspersed with being an exhausting drain the majority of the time: So leaders keep changing their mind about the value of this person to the team and using that as a reason to excuse their inaction.
I am afraid to lose a person doing some work: Even if they’re not the best. We all know that people take 70% of their knowledge with them when they leave a company – but 70% of terrible results and inability to drive action is perfectly okay to lose…really.
Who will take over?: Start recruiting early and often if you are concerned about this.
It’s hard. It’s not fun. I hate interviewing. The applicants we get are the worst!: These are all reasons I have heard and they are totally terrible. Of course it’s not fun to have to manage performance but our job, as retail leaders, is to build career capital of our employees, to ensure delivery of an outstanding customer experience that builds brand loyalty, and to drive results over expectation in all areas of the business…that’s our job. If we are failing our employees by not helping them achieve greatness and they lack the ambition to deliver on their own, what is the alternative? Building a great culture will result in your employees being your advocates…when employees enjoy their job and their boss and they are consistently recognized for performance and developed…they will help their company find people that are well suited for the culture and the role. Being a leader who delivers greatness you will have a pool of truly amazing talent available to you. Retail Leadership is hard..it’s hard every day and it is a challenge but that is the great part about our industry. Great leaders are energized by the business and the day-to-day challenges. Bad leaders and organizations that are destined to fail – find excuses like these.
At any given time there are a handful of candidates in the marketplace who will deliver excellence to your organization, your employees, your culture, and your customer. Letting terrible employees “get away with” terrible performance sends a terrible message to your top employees who work hard each day to deliver results that not only that make their area of responsibility excel but trying to help offset the poor performers results.
Research shows that the overall team performance is defined by the lowest performer, not the highest performer. Take for example, the NPR This American Life prologue, where a researcher had an actor to join a work team and act like a typical toxic coworker and the rest of the team followed. Human behavior is so interesting. I had the great opportunity during Disney Leadership training when I worked at Disneyland to take on this negative role in a training course as well and it was amazing how influential and persuasive negative behavior can be [especially if it is perceived as being endorsed by the senior and executive leaders of the retail organization through their inaction].
According to a McKinsey study, 59% of employees would be “delighted” if managers dealt with problem employees, but only 7% of those responding to employee surveys believed their companies were actually doing it.
Objectively, we do cater to the lowest common denominator in retail and we create parental and condescending processes and policies that attempt to drive performance standards to those that deliver results that are “good enough” or “meets expectation”. It’s time for a new strategy that drives innovation, high-level performance, and supports the top contributors to the business. This starts with cutting ties with the dead weight in the business and using creativity and collaboration to drive a positive and successful culture. Until that happens we are unlikely to elevate where we currently stand in the industry.