I am a consultant for an organization that has a lot of good natured and loyal employees, some who have been there for decades. However the organization also has a handful of staff who are not pulling their weight and not good at what they do. There is a track record of management not providing any structured feedback to staff and never criticizing staff. There is talk behind closed doors about these people but it is clear they will never be asked to leave, or asked to improve. The inside joke is that it is impossible to get fired at this company. I have not been asked for my input on this nor is it my area of expertise but in my several years working with them, I can see that it is clearly a detriment to their operations, and many staff are frustrated by this but it seems to fall on deaf ears. Is there anything I can do?
Head in the Sand
Dear Head in the Sand,
What’s that quote that people are constantly saying? “The reward for good work is more work.” Too bad there isn’t an equivalent for all of the folks that are rewarded for doing horrible work by getting to float on by while doing nothing. Oh, if I can count the number of times I’ve heard this scenario come up in the world of work. So, what can we do?
Before we jump into potential avenues to explore, I want you to really consider how much of a role you want to take/are able to take based on this situation. As a consultant, I’m assuming you aren’t a part of the organization in terms of reporting lines, etc. You have clearly built close relationships and want to support your fellow colleagues, but where is the scope of your position and how does that tie into what can be done? Now there’s the matter of what role you play but also of the work that you do. Are, for example, these not-so-great colleagues impacting your ability to do your work? Or is it more that you’re hearing things and just know it's impacting the morale of the organization, which can impact your work but maybe not directly? These are all important things to consider. If the quality of work these colleagues are (or are not) doing is impacting your ability to do your job, then it’s your problem too and something that makes sense for you to get involved in. However, if that is not the case, then I would tread carefully. As much as you want to help, you may be limited in what you can do aside from providing moral support.
If you decide you would like to do something, or want to advise your colleagues to do something, typically I would say we should start with the colleagues themselves. I wrote a great piece for Seeking Solutions and for Managing Sucks that I think you will find helpful. Now, if working with the colleagues directly doesn’t pan out, which seems likely considering you mentioned that beyond not pulling their weight, they are also not good at their job, then going to management would be the next step. In this case, it appears that management is half of the problem. Many managers are, unfortunately, conflict avoidant which may play a role in them not being able to provide structured feedback. Are the managers fully aware of the depth of the issue and its impact on the staff and the operations? If numbers or goals aren’t being reached, for example, this will be a direct reflection on the managers so we want to make sure they are fully aware of the level of the impact. This is where recording facts of the exact situations and the times in which things have gone badly is important. If you haven’t started recording these incidents, I would recommend starting. You need to build a case to even be able to consider consequences.
If after all of that management is still unwilling to do anything and you’ve gone up the chain, then HR would be another resource. HR should have the tools for you to be able to file a formal complaint and support the colleagues that are being impacted.
Finally, if that doesn’t work, if your colleagues don’t want to go the HR route, or the HR route turns out to be a dead end, there are two other things you can consider. First, do your colleagues want to continue to work at an organization where they don’t feel heard and their work appreciated? That would be enough to get most people to consider other options. Maybe a mass exodus will be the wake up call management needs! If leaving is not on the table for whatever reason, then another recommendation would be to see if the work can be siloed in a way that your colleagues have the least amount of interaction with the people that aren’t pulling their weight. This way, you have your piece, they have theirs, and if someone doesn’t meet a deadline, it's not on you. Management and that person can deal with it. Now this is easier said than done as most operations rely on multiple players, but it's something that you could recommend to ease some of the load.
This is a tough one. The key is to decide what is worth it and what’s not for everyone involved. A mass exodus may begin to sound appealing soon if needs continue to not be met. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that!
P.S. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I’m curious what the amazing community of educators reading this post has to say. Chime in, folks! What thoughts do you have? Share your thoughts on the Global Leadership League’s LinkedIn page. Have a question for Sophia yourself, ask here!
Please note: This response is provided for informational purposes only. The information contained herein is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice or legal opinions of a licensed professional. Contact a personal attorney or licensed professional to obtain appropriate legal advice or professional counseling with respect to any particular issue or problem.