Leadership Development for C Players?

Developing employees can be time-intensive. Matching direct reports’ interests, values, and skills to growth opportunities requires energy and careful consideration. How can you optimize the time spent on this activity? By understanding who on your team should be developed—and who requires performance improvement.

To understand how successful leaders allocate their employee development time, it’s helpful to consider the return on management, or ROM, of developing your direct reports.

The Return on Management ratio

ROM can be expressed as the following equation: ROM = Productive energy released divided by management time and attention invested.

This ratio—which is more of a metaphor than an exact calculation—provides a framework for evaluating your strategic focus on daily tasks. Is your energy invested in activities that best contribute to your organization’s productivity and overall performance? If not, you are likely not spending your time on the “right” opportunities and challenges.

In the case of developing employees, the ROM ratio suggests that managers spend the most time working with the people that contribute the most and add the most value to the organization. This group would consist of both star performers and solid contributors. Based on such an assessment, the third group, your low-potential, low-performing employees (or C players), would merit the least management time and energy because they benefit the organization the least.

The first step: identify your C players

While the ROM ratio indicates that those who deliver mediocre performance and lack initiative deserve the least attention, you cannot ignore them. Instead, you must take the time up front to identify who the C players are, and then take decisive action.
Failing to address your low-performing employees can have a detrimental effect on the organization’s performance. These individuals often:

– Stand in the way of the advancement of more talented employees
– Hire other C players, which lowers the performance bar across the board
– Tend to be poor role models who encourage a low-performer mentality among their peers and direct reports
– Engender a culture of mediocrity which repels highly talented and ambitious people

Once you’ve differentiated these employees, you must decide how you will address them. Then, it’s best to act decisively—but with respect.

The second step: move them up—or out

Generally speaking, the strategy for addressing C players centers on performance. The first step is to try to move them up to an acceptable performance level. To do this, managers must:

– Provide them with clearly defined goals.
– Create a prescribed path and timeline for achieving those goals.
– Be explicit about the ways in which they must improve.
– Be willing to coach and provide candid feedback.

However, some employees may be unable—or unwilling—to improve their performance. The best course of action for these individuals is to move them out of their current jobs. This may mean trying to find them a different position in your organization where they may be more successful, or dismissing them from the company.

Dismissing C players

Before dismissing an employee, you’ll want to be sure that dismissing the person is the right thing to do, or if you have any other recourse. If you have exhausted your options, make sure you have the correct documentation both of the employee’s performance or behavior problems and the steps you’ve taken to help him or her improve. Finally, you’ll also want to consult with your legal and human resources departments regarding the dismissal regulations unique to your situation.

Dismissing an employee is often a painful process. It is helpful to keep in mind your ultimate goal in taking this action: to strengthen your talent pool in order to increase business performance. Your first allegiance must be to your organization, not to an individual. If C players remain under your supervision, you are compromising your company’s performance.

Also remember that letting employees languish in a job where they are not respected by their direct reports and peers only hurts them. Moving them out is not only good for your organization, but good for the employee as well.