If you were around at the start of the 21st century, you may remember the television game show, The Weakest Link. On the show, if a contestant failed out, the host would say, “You are the weakest link, goodbye.”
While those six words are easy to say on a show designed for entertainment and high ratings, mangers and business owners often find it hard to say those same words to the members of their team that really need to be let go. In doing so, they hurt not only the culture of their company but also the productivity and longterm profitability of their company.
Defining The Weakest Links
You probably already know who the weakest links in your company are without doing an exercise to define them. Chances are, your team members know them, too. They are the person/people who never take ownership of their mistakes, commonly drop balls, spend more time talking than working, and tend to spend more time as the center of discussion on how to improve their performance rather than how to improve their department.
If, however, you’re totally clueless about how to identify your weakest links, use the Bottom 10% Test. Every quarter, sit down and evaluate who the bottom 10% are in each department. Devise a plan to help them reach expected results by the end of the year. Then, until you have a team of superstars, annually make a commitment to cutting the bottom 10% of your staff who aren’t performing and replace them with people dedicated and competent enough to grow your business.
Cutting the Weakest Links
Let’s look at a few reasons why cutting the weakest link(s) from your team is important, no matter the role they play at your company. We’ll evaluate five common myths that surround keeping bad links.
1. “Maybe They’ll Get Better”
Thoughout my tenure in management roles and business ownership, I’ve been guilty of uttering these four words a time or two (or 500). I always wanted to believe everyone was as capable of growing, learning, and rising to the challenges that come with building a successful business.
Unfortunately, more times than not, this mentality saw me holding onto a weak link on my team way longer than I should have. In turn, I spent too much time and too many resources trying to develop someone who was never going to be capable of rising to the occasion. These time and resources could have been better spent developing the superstars already on my team or working on new strategies and plans to catapult the business to new heights.
When you meet with your employees and develop employee improvement plans, only to find employee development or business growth goals still aren’t being met, take action and cut the weak link.
2. “Maybe They’re Just In The Wrong Spot”
These seven words that are all to commonly used as a reason for holding on to a weak link see “bad apple” employees bounced around your company, where their rotten toxins are slowly leaked to every department.
While there are instances where this mentality is acceptable, they are rare. If you have someone with a great attitude and skillset that is truly aligned in the wrong part of your business, by all means, move them. But if someone has a poor attitude, lack of dedication to a project, has a habit of making excuses, or just isn’t putting out extra effort to rise to the challenges of their role, it’s probably better to terminate the working relationship.
3. “It’s Better To Have Somebody Than Nobody”
I learned long ago that it takes more time and effort to clean up the messes and mistakes made by underperforming employees than it does to leave a position vaccant.
First, underperforming employees not only fail to do their jobs, they bring others down in the process. Confusion, missed deadlines, and inaccurate information are just three of the ways weak links cause chaos in your business.
I would always rather work understaffed than hold onto an employee who continually brings the rest of the team down.
Your top performers will help you carry the extra weight until you are able to fill the role. In doing so, you may actually discover new, time saving, ways to perform the duties of the position.
4. “We Don’t Want Others to Think We Are Heartless”
The reality is, unless you have a workplace entirely full of underperformers, nothing could be farther from the truth. Your good employees know who your weak links are, and they wonder why management does nothing about it.
Superstar employees enjoy sharing the stage with other superstars. It allows them to grow together and build an amazing company. When bad talent on their work stage continually turns their production into a disaster, your superstars will start to leave for better stages as they realize or presume you’re tolerant of poor performers.
5. “They’ll Sue Me.”
Fear of lawsuits by disgruntled former employees is probably the most legitimate reason companies hold onto weak links, especially employees in a “protected class”.
So long as you are terminating a weak link for the right reason, and you’ve kept adequate documentation along to way to document your attempts to improve your weak link’s chances of success, litigation shouldn’t be an issue. If letting people go is something new to your company, you may want to consult with your labor attorney to review your policies, procedures, and documentation process. It’s also important your managers are trained on these three things to mitigate the risk of litigation.
Firing People is a Tough Job, But Cutting Weakest Links is Important
Chances are, a weak link probably already knows they’re not the right person for the job. They may have been with your company for a long time, but as you’ve grown, they’ve outgrown their ability or skillset. Coming to work everyday is not only a drain on your business, it’s now also a drain on their emotional well being. By coming to terms with this realization together, you can help this person start down a new career path elsewhere that is a better fit for their abilities.
Being responsible for hiring and firing people is not always a glorious position. The later is always the hardest one to do because you know you’re impacting the life of a person. But also know that by not firing them, you’re holding back an entire team…and ultimately an entire company.
By letting go your weakest links, you let go those people who drag down productivity, kill morale, and drive out your top performers.
Remember the age old adage, “You’re only as strong as your weakest link.” How strong is your company right now?