LAST WORD | Steve TobakMay 9, 2013
Some months ago, Apple and Microsoft each parted ways with a high-profile senior executives: iOS software chief Scott Forstall and Windows president Steven Sinofsky.
The moves were just weeks apart and the stories were strangely similar: two remarkably effective and talented executives who were simply unmanageable. They were so chronically abrasive and divisive that they were more trouble than they were worth.
Of course there’s more than one side to every story. And while we may not be privy to all the specifics, one thing’s for sure. Those decisions were some of the toughest ones the CEOs ever had to make. After all, talent like that doesn’t grow on trees. Nevertheless, it had to be done. They had to go.
It takes all kinds to run a company but a few bad apples can definitely spoil organizational effectiveness in a hurry. And these days, companies just can’t afford to keep those kinds of people around. The longer you wait, the more damage they do.
Over the years I’ve worked with just about every type of employee you can think of and, in my experience, there are more or less seven kinds of people you simply have to get rid of, no ifs ands or buts, and sooner rather than later.
1. They’re a Troublemaker. With all of our issues and dysfunctions, I sometimes wonder how anything gets done at all. Still, we manage the best we can. And when employees create more problems than they’re worth, when the damage they do to the organization weighs more heavily than their achievements, then it’s time to cut them loose.
2. They Overpromise and Underdeliver. Some people have such overly inflated self-images that they either think they can do anything or crave the attention they get by making big boastful promises. But when their egos consistently write checks their capabilities can’t cash, that’s a real problem that’s not likely to be resolvable without a good shrink.
3. They Act Out With Customers. I don’t care if you have a small business or work at a Fortune 500 company, customers are hard to gain and easy to lose. The one thing you don’t need is an employee who works with customers and somehow doesn’t get that business is about winning and keeping customers, not him and his bad attitude.
4. They Can’t or Won’t Do the Job. You hire and pay people to do a job. Your job is to be clear about what that entails and give them the tools and training they need to get the job done. Their job is then to do it. If they either can’t or won’t after a few chances, then you’ve probably given them one chance too many.
5. They Flake. Some people look the part but, when push comes to shove, you can’t count on them to get the job done or even to show up on a regular basis. Whatever the specifics, you can never tell when they’re going to flake and you just can’t trust them. Life is too short to have employees like that.
6. They’re Entitled. Some people are more thin-skinned, litigious, and entitled than they have any right to be. Half their mind is on the job and the other half is just waiting for someone to slip up so they can whine and complain and maybe even threaten litigation. Don’t give in to that kind of behavior. Cut them loose. They might throw a fit and you might get sued, but they can only do it once, and then you’re rid of them for good.
7. They Ignore Conduct. Whatever the rules of conduct are for your company and its culture, you’ve got to uphold them fairly and consistently across the board. Whether an employee was insubordinate to her boss or a top executive lies about something material on his resume, if it happened and it breaks the rules, you should walk them out the door.
People are always complaining about how stressful their job is but, in my experience, there’s nothing more stressful than having to deal with employees who aren’t cutting it and drag down the whole organization. Quit thinking about it and just get rid of them. You’ll sleep better at night–and so will the rest of your team.
Steve Tobak is a management consultant, an executive coach, and a former senior executive of the technology industry. He’s managing partner of Invisor Consulting, a Silicon Valley-based strategy consulting firm. Contact Tobak; follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. @SteveTobak