Workers don't have to seek out a clique

Frustrated by the influx of undisciplined workers, more and more managers these days are abdicating their responsibility for addressing poor performance and correcting inappropriate behaviors. Opting instead to report either them to the HR department or simply ignore them in the mistaken belief, they'll get the message and leave.

Perhaps the responsibility for performance management in your workplace has not yet been formally assigned. If that's so, and you decide to take on this responsibility yourself, here are some useful concepts to help get the process started.

As a rule of thumb, the lower the level of functionality, the more complaints are voiced about other people's shortcomings. Under such conditions, it is common practice for employees to refer to each other in disparaging terms that spawn misunderstandings, miscommunications and mistrust.

Unfortunately, after experiencing an adversarial relationship for so long, the most troublesome people have resigned themselves to being at odds with their leaders and co-workers alike.

Restoring functionality

Regardless of who ultimately accepts responsibility for restoring functionality in your workplace, it will be helpful to keep two things in mind:

* High performers will figure out what improvements are needed and determine on their own how to make the necessary changes.

* Low performers don't think about improvement, so don't expect them to give much constructive thought to changing their behaviors.

As tempting as it is to get rid of the "deadwood," be advised that multiple research studies on staff restructuring point to a chilling conclusion-dead wood floats. That's because when the poor performers hear about performance upgrades, they immediately focus on survival-staying afloat long enough to outlast the process.

Shadow competition

There's always a shadow competition going on between the high achievers and the low performers. I use the term "shadow" because management is usually in the dark when it happens. Fortunately, there are several observable behaviors that will indicate when and why the shadow competition is taking place.

For example, behaviorally challenged employees will stand together in pointing out the smallest faults of their functional co-workers.

One common technique is for two of them to hang around after a meeting waiting to catch their supervisor alone. Once they have him or her cornered, they'll claim that it is hard for them to say something negative about a star player, but they thought someone ought to know that so-and-so has been looking for another job.

These folks are hoping to gain favor by casting aspersions on the high achievers. They declare their loyalty and offer to assume the duties of the "departing" employee, if that will help.

Because the low producers have more at stake in staying put, they are more likely to "fight" for their job in ways you've never imagined.

This is not true for the best performers. Because they have the confidence to look beyond their current position, these people maintain an external network that keeps them abreast of job openings and career opportunities. That's why the roles and responsibilities of these "work horses" must be continuously upgraded and expanded-with matching rewards of course. If their functionality is not recognized, these highly-sort-after employees will seek appreciation elsewhere.

Influential leadership

Before people will follow a leader, they must understand what is expected of them. They also need to know the best way to interact with the leader and others on their team.

Functional employees can figure out who the leaders are and determine for themselves how best to work with them. Dysfunctional employees don't fully understand their own actions; so don't expect them to give much constructive thought to those of the leader.

As you try to influence the behavior of the poorest performers, remember you are dealing with deep-seated feelings and fears. These folks are capable of covering up their fears and holding their feelings in check as long as no one challenges their performance or questions their abilities.

When their poor performance is spotlighted, these folks become fearful that their personal shortfalls will be exposed. So regardless of who assumes responsibility for bringing about a change in their behavior, they must trust that they will be treated fairly in the process.

So, you might ask, why not ignore the low performers and concentrate solely on the high achievers?

For lack of a better strategy many companies are doing just that. It doesn't work for long, however, because the high performers soon resent having to carry the load alone and start looking elsewhere for performance equity. And it's not hard to guess who stays behind.

Taken from Jones' new book, "Help! I'm Surrounded By Idiots: A Workplace Survival Guide. Jones is a motivational speaker and seminar leader. Send comments to All letters are forwarded to the author and may be published as Letters to the Editor.

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