Ask the Experts – September 08

How do you deal with marginal performers?

Recently while speaking at a conference I was approached by the manager of a call center who lamented that more than 20% of her staff are marginal performers. They know what they have to do to keep their jobs and ensure that they don’t do anymore than the minimum required. She asked what can I do with these staff so they don’t have a adverse affect on the other staff?

Expert Answer
Toxic staff – We have all worked with or for such people. They don’t enjoy what they do and want everyone else to know it. They can sink morale in a center faster than you could possibly imagine. There are a number of strategies you can take when dealing with these marginal performers, though none is fool-proof.

Terminate them – The most obvious strategy, but not always easy to do. You will be amazed to see just how consistently a person can stay on the razors edge without providing grounds for dismissal. Sometimes you just need to bite the bullet and fire them, with the associated cost for the good of the center. In other centers, where unions are active this simply might not be an option.

Direct incentives – Tie their compensation to their individual contribution. If money motivates them then this approach can have some traction, if they are willing to ‘buy-in’ to the process. If they won’t ‘buy-in’ then you are likely dead in the water.

Team Incentives – The beauty of this approach is that it is their peers and not management that places the pressure on the sub-par performer. When the rest of the team realizes that their income is being adversely impacted by one individual you can see the power of peer pressure. Some times the poor performer comes around, sometimes they quit, and some times there is no impact at all.

Put them in charge of something – Sometimes a poor performer is simply bored and doesn’t care who knows it. Placing them in charge of a research or benchmarking project can sometimes provide the degree of engagement required to bring them back to the fold. You must be careful in this approach however as not to be seen as rewarding ‘bad behavior’ or you might end up with a room full of poor performers.

Get them out of the center – If they are toxic to others in the center and you can’t motivate or terminate, then get them out of the center. They can still be on your payroll, but move them somewhere else and get them working on a solitary project where they cannot contaminate other staff. This will not solve your problem, but will work fairly well to quarantine it.

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