Ask Dr. Jana | How to Weed Out and Manage Misfits, Malcontents and Non-performers

June 5, 2020


Dear Dr. Jana,

How should I deal with weak people/weak bench strength in our team when all I have to go off is hearsay? I understand that employees are stressed, but it’s clear from some comments that these employees are only interested in themselves and have no consideration whatsoever for the company. Others on the team tell me these employees are going around and talking to others on the team, and I am worried that rot will set in. How do I call this out and address it, while recognising that it is a stressful time for employees and help them see that it’s pretty stressful time for employers as well? 



Dear Gerry,

You are right – this is a very stressful time for company owners and very few employees seem to understand or appreciate the stress you all are under. Many seem to be more focused on themselves and the stress they are under! But this could be because they simply don’t understand what needs to happen for your company to have enough revenue to pay them to work. This is something you need to teach them, so they understand why everyone needs to pull together to enable the company to be successful, especially in times like this.

I break down your question into three parts and answer each part separately in my article below.

Dr. Jana


1. What should I do with weak people/weak bench strength on the team, when all I have to go off is hearsay?

If you’ve been to our Clinics or programs, you know how important it is to regularly assess people on the basis of their performance and their fit with the company’s values. If you have “weak people” and “weak bench strength on the team” this suggests that you have not been assessing and providing feedback to your employees or weeding out the misfits, malcontents, and the non-performers. So, I suggest you do following:

A) Announce to everyone that you are going to have individual conversations with each person because you want to understand what things are stressing them out and whether there are some changes in the company that would enable them to do their jobs better.

B) Set up meetings with each person on Zoom, or on the phone, or over a coffee. Begin the meeting as follows,

  • “I totally understand that this is stressful time for you – it is for all of us. So, let’s begin by talking about the most stressful things for you right now.” If the most stressful things they talk about are personal, let them talk, and then guide them to focus on the stressful things at work by asking the following question …
  • “OK – what about work. Are there things at work that are stressing you out, because if there are, I’d like to know and talk about what we can do to reduce the stress.” Again, let them talk, and then say …
  • “OK – now it’s my turn to talk about some of the things that are stressing me out (and share some of those). And on top of all that, I am stressed about how you’re not doing the job we have asked you to do.” Give them some feedback on their performance, e.g., coming in late to work, or taking a longer lunch hour, or doing sloppy work, or slow to return customer’s calls, turning in reports late, etc. After providing particular examples of low performance, or behaviour that does not square with your values, have a discussion with them about why their performance has slipped, and then say …
  • “OK – now let’s talk about what you need to do, and what I need to do, to enable you to perform at the high level we need because the company – your fellow employees and I – need you to perform at the highest possible level so our company can survive this pandemic, rebound and emerge a stronger company than before.”
  • Agree on who needs to do what, within a specific timeframe, and whether and when you need to have another meeting with them to provide feedback on their progress, i.e. develop a performance improvement plan with each individual whose performance needs to improve.

After having these conversations, it should be clear which employees are weak, and you and they need to decide how long they have to improve their performance. It’s very important that they understand that everyone needs to perform at a high level, in line with the company’s values, in order to keep his/her job. At the moment there is a vast talent pool available in Australia from which you can recruit amazing people, with the skills and experience you need to take your company to the next level, so if you keep the misfits, malcontents and the non-performers, you have no one to blame but yourself for “weak bench strength”.

2. How do I talk with people who are complaining to others about their issues and what the company should or shouldn’t be doing, and potentially causing “rot”?

If you do what I described above, you will give people an opportunity to share their issues with you rather than complain to others. Once you understand what the issues are, you need to decide whether or not their issues are legitimate and if so, how you are going to address them. If their issues are not legitimate, then you need to decide whether the complainers are misfits, malcontents, or non-performers who need to go.

3 . How do I help people understand the impact of the pandemic on the company (and me) and show how their reactions and behaviour impact the rest of the company and its performance?

Most employees do not understand how business works. They are hired to do a job, they come to work for a certain number of hours, they see other people doing other jobs, they seldom get feedback on how well they are doing, they don’t understand the rationale for decisions that are made, and they get paid once or twice a month. So, it’s not a surprise that employees do not understand the impact of the pandemic on the company or the company owner.

A friend of mine, Jack Stack, wrote a book called, The Great Game of Business, based on the program that he developed for factory workers at Springfield Remanufacturing. Jack and a few colleagues had purchased the company in a highly leveraged buyout because they knew that the town was dependent on the jobs associated with this factory. After purchasing the company, the new owners looked at each other and agreed on two rules: “We cannot run out of cash.” and “We cannot destroy from within.”

They began teaching each factory unit the basics of business: products and services, customers and customer service, manufacturing throughput, measures and targets, profit and loss, cash flow, etc. It seems to me you might want to teach your people more about the great game of business and help them understand how their performance and their behaviour impacts other employees as well as the overall performance of the company.

And even if you don’t actually have a program to teach them, at least draw a diagram on the board and walk them through the process of producing a product, finding customers, selling the product, billing a customer, receiving payment, then using that revenue to pay their salaries, rent, electricity, and all the expenses related to the business.

In the absence of knowledge, a lot of employees just come to work, put in time, and do as little as possible to collect a pay check. But if you empathise with them and teach them how business works, they become engaged, are willing to perform at a much higher level, and eager to help the company reach its goals. I hope this will be the case for you and your company.

Ask Dr. Jana your questions on company survival and growth. Submit your questions via email to Dr. Jana and she’ll answer in her ‘Ask Dr. Jana’ column.

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