Dead weight is defined by online dictionaries as: “a person who makes no contribution; a useless, usually burdensome factor.” In the workplace dead weight comes in many forms. Here are a few of the most common examples:

1. A team member who may produce the numbers, but doesn’t live your core values.

2. An incompetent team member.

3. An unproductive team member.

4. An overpaid team member, whose compensation far exceeds the worth he or she brings to the organization.

5. A team member with potential, but who is currently cast in the wrong role and contributing little or no value to the organization.

6. An untrained team member who wants to do well, but hasn’t been taught the skills necessary to succeed.

In consulting with companies in multiple industries over the past two decades the following concerning dead weight has become obvious:

1. There’s a lot of talk, whining and moaning about it, but little action to remedy it.

2. Managers spend more time defending it, making excuses for it, or working around it than they do dealing with it by either getting the person better or getting a better person.

3. Dead weight is rationalized because if it is removed it will create a manpower shortage.

4. Dead weight is excused because the person has been with the company for many years, and is considered “loyal”.

5. Dead weight is tolerated because, overall, business is good and there’s no sense rocking the boat.

6. Dead weight is not a “problem” to solve, but a “fact of life” to live with because the dead weight is related to someone of importance in the organization. No one except that person can do something about it, and they won’t.

7. Dead weight sometimes exists because managers fail to do their job to develop the person into a productive performer. They don’t set clear expectations; give honest feedback, consistently train, coach or hold accountable for developing a solid skill and knowledge base.

8. Too much concern is given to the cost of removing the dead weight, and not nearly enough consideration given to the staggering cost of keeping it. Expanding on this point, consider the costs of keeping dead weight; some of which are incalculable.

  • Dead weight causes shortfalls in production.

  • Dead weight breaks team momentum as others clean up their messes and shoulder their load.

  • Dead weight lowers team morale, as all productive people feel diminished when sharing the workplace with misfits.

  • Dead weight hurts the customer experience and diminishes your brand.

  • Keeping dead weight destroys a leader’s credibility as his stated standards and commitments to excellence are often questioned and commonly mocked.

The truth about dead weight is that these factors don’t inflict a one-time lump sum payment upon your organization, but create an ongoing form of misery on the installment plan.

There are only a handful of viable options for dealing with dead weight. Here are a few:

1. Prevent it. This starts with a rigorous recruiting and hiring process designed to fire poor candidates before you hire them.

2. Create the conditions for success. This management responsibility entails:

  • Establishing clear performance and behavioral expectations.

  • Giving fast, honest feedback on a team member’s performance in relation to those standards so that solid results are reinforced and defective ones are confronted.

  • Train, coach and motivate the team member so they’re able to hit the standards.

  • Hold the team member accountable with consequences for failing to reach the standard.

  • Surround the team member with other solid performers to create a positive peer pressure to perform, and freeing him or her from the burden of working with non-contributors.

3. Transfer the dead weight to a position that better suits their skills and talents. Sometimes a solid performer is trapped in the wrong role. If their performance shortfall is the result of deficient skills or talent, a transfer can often work wonders. However, if they’re negative, un-driven or have questionable character a transfer only serves to give them new platforms from which to damage your organization.

4. Terminate the dead weight. This is made far simpler if you’ve established clear expectations and values upfront, so that non-performers are flushed out faster. It’s always easier to decide who must leave the team after you’ve pre-established clear criteria for success. It’s important to understand that in a growing organization people will be outgrown. Not everyone wants to keep up, or is able to keep up. Thus, terminating those no longer cutting it is a normal byproduct of growth. While excessive turnover is symptomatic of key leadership failures, if the leaders are doing their job, some will be fired. The options are simple: if you can’t get someone better, you must get someone who is better. Otherwise, you’ll drop the performance bar to accommodate the dead weight’s competence or comfort zone and damage the entire team in the process.

Parting shot: If you are a leader with the authority to remove dead weight, yet fail to do so, you’re the problem; you’re the dead weight. I know; the truth hurts. But what really stings is having to update a resume because your boss decides the dealership deserves better.

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Comment by Gerry Fraenkel on May 12, 2014 at 2:38pm

Absolutely on the money post. Jack Welch would concur. When a person we hire fails, our inability to place them in the right position is our fault. 

Comment by Steve Richards on May 12, 2014 at 9:58am

Well said, well written, and absolutely the way it is. Thank you for your elocution.

Comment by Steve Conner @SteveConnerSC on May 10, 2014 at 4:48pm

I agree with Larry, and looking at the article the elements discussed seem to be relative and fall on spectrums in my mind. I like it from the management side, if those basic principles of management are not executed (your people don't understand what you expect nor receive training) then changes have to happen. In my opinion, hiring is the toughest side of the problem. Put your sales people  into tiers. When I rate sales people I do so on a 1-10 scale and recognize that there are not many sales people that fall in the 8-10 range. Wouldn't it be great to have all 8-10's? However, I could argue that sales teams need to have that balance where around 70-80% of their sales people should be 4-7 ratings.  My 4-7's always have the potential to reach 8-10 status but anyone who interviews and falls between 1-3 will never, ever, no matter what training etc get to an 8-10 rating. I think if you eliminate those 1-3 hires and even be skeptical of hiring 4s (unless they have unbelievable potential) you would be in pretty good shape so long as you have a good management system.  If anyone would like to talk more about this feel free to message me.  Thanks,

Comment by Bernard London on May 10, 2014 at 1:58pm

Wow Dave. Your post on dead weight is awesome! When I consider some of the activities I find when I am out in the field training, coaching and consulting and in particular looking back at my many years of department manager I can clearly see exactly what you are talking about. Not only do I see it and have seen it but I find that I was also guilty of it. How many times have I as a manger kept a guy on the team  "because he always hits his numbers" or "because he is a great guy"? All the time realizing that there are many deficiencies in KPIs, expectations and following the rules etc. and not doing anything about it. One of the very negative outcomes of allowing this behavior is that it can actually sour the rest of the team. "How come he gets away with this, etc?". Not to mention that he or she looks great but what about the possibilities and opportunities that are being overlooked, missed or purposely avoided. Yes Dave. Great article.

Comment by David Kordek on May 10, 2014 at 1:06pm

Awe Dave, you've touched a nerve and I sincerely thank you for it. 44 years in Fixed Ops with extensive and impeccable credentials and references and since losing my last position in 2009 after 12 years of taking a failing Company to an Industry Leader today, I have NOT been able to find another career position. WHY? I interview with youngsters who are "Dead Weight" and have no intentions of hiring someone who will take their job. Notice I said job and not career. To them, all it truly is? A place to hide until someone finally catches up with them. You are absolutely correct. The "Dead Weight" begins with Owners and Upper Management not doing "their job." Why? Because, they don't want to deal with conflict, they don't want to deal with customers and they are "Big Shot Legends in their own minds who are beyond reproach and DO NOT HAVE A CLUE!" So, who is responsible and who is accountable? BTW: I turned 62 in March and was forced into retirement at the Pinnacle of my career with many good strong years, training and experience left to give. "This is Our Country Folks!"  

Comment by Larry Stevenson on February 27, 2014 at 8:15am

True words are spoken and the real shame as you say is when the dead weight had never been given goals and expectations, or the knowledge and training of which road to success must be traveled...never train, never establish the teams goals and direction, never review and inspect what you expect. Never Have Success, what a shame, almost like asking was the chicken or the egg first,,,,dead weight or dead management team first.

Comment by Paul J Peery on February 26, 2014 at 3:31pm

The hiring process is so important but even then you really have no idea how someone will work out in your organization until you put them to work .. I have learned that most employees want to do a good job for you .. that being said it is your job to train them in what is expected of them .. if after training and instructing them they do not work out then it is best to part company .. but it is the managers  (boss) job to make sure you hire a quality person ,, and give them the best chance to succeed .. if the employee succeeds then the company succeeds

Comment by David Martin on February 26, 2014 at 3:08pm

Well said. I always enjoy your candor and insight. It is a credit to the industry

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