This is an interview of me conducted by Don Tennant of IT BusinessEdge on September 25, 2010
If you’re an IT manager, chances are you’re coddling your underperformers and clinging to your deadwood, while forcing your most talented, productive people to languish in a sea of non-recognition, encouraging them to jump ship the moment they have the opportunity to do so.
That’s the assessment of Rick Dacri, a human resources consultant and author of the book, Uncomplicating Management. Dacri maintains that IT managers are no better or worse than managers across the board, who tend to treat everyone the same, regardless of their performance or their value to the organization. Managers are reluctant to make the tough decisions that would rid their organizations of lousy workers, he says, and they’re so busy dealing with the problem workers that they fail to acknowledge the contributions of the people who are getting the job done.
I spoke with Dacri last week, and found much of what he said to be spot-on, based on my own observations over the years. What managers need to wrap their heads around, he says, is that it’s not only OK, but essential, to treat their people differently:
“What I find is managers have this egalitarian notion that everyone needs to be treated the same. And by doing that, they turn off the stars, and they in essence reward the people who aren’t performing. What I’m trying to emphasize is that you need to differentiate between the people who are making all the difference in your company – the ones who don’t give you any headaches – and treat them differently. Provide them lavish praise, money, perks, training, and everything else. Meanwhile, you take those people who aren’t performing and either coach them so they improve, find an alternative for them in the organization, or move them out. The people who are the deadwood have got to go. It’s my experience that managers spend 90 percent of their time dealing with the bottom 10 percent of the workforce, and you’ve got to change that paradigm. Switch it around and focus on those stars, and get rid of those people who are hurting you.”
“It’s an acknowledgement … that it’s OK to treat people differently. But I find either they don’t do that because they don’t think they should because of this egalitarian notion; or they avoid doing it because to address the problem employees creates the fear of confrontation, the fear that if I take some sort of action, people will quit, people will be upset, it will harm morale, it’ll upset the boat. They don’t make decisions as to what should be done, and frankly, we pay managers to make decisions. … When you talk to managers about a lot of these concepts, instinctively they know it’s the right thing to do. But it’s one thing to know it; it’s a whole other thing to do it. Too often what we find in management today is we’re waiting for the next fad, the next gimmick to come down from some management guru to latch onto. What I try to emphasize with people is to stop waiting for that. There’s no silver bullet out there. We’ve got to get back to the basics, which are to put clear expectations in place; hold people accountable for what you expect them to do; have lots and lots of communication with them; and take care of your people. If you do those four things, you’ll find your productivity will increase, you’ll have an engaged work force, you’ll have fewer headaches, and your job will be made that much easier.”
According to Dacri, not even the recession provided the impetus for many managers to get rid of their deadwood and focus on their stars. And in too many cases, managers were willing to keep the deadwood and throw the stars under the bus, because that enabled them to cut more costs:
“In some cases, managers used [the recession] as an opportunity to rid their organizations of people that weren’t performing. But I don’t think that happened across the board, and frankly, a recession is a lousy excuse for doing what should be done when employees are not performing. … Getting back to this egalitarian notion of a seniority-based system, sometimes the more senior people kept their jobs, and the less senior people, who could have been the better performers, lost their jobs. Sometimes organizations took advantage of the fact that the more senior people were the higher-paid people, and so those were the first ones to go [even though they were the star performers]. Sometimes we’re shortsighted in making these financial decisions. Although cutting labor looks like a real savings because you can see it immediately in the bottom line, in the long run it often means losing good people, and that hurts. Finding good people is hard; training people is expensive.”