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.