Zero Telerance for Poor Performance

By: Robin McKay

Last week I was in Singapore delivering an address at the annual symposium for the Contact Centre Association of Singapore. Singapore is an impressive country. It's the size of lake Taupo with the same population base as New Zealand. Many people refer to this city as the Switzerland of the East. This is an apt analogy as the city is so efficient and the financial hub of Asia. What really struck me were the low crime rate, genuine honesty and politeness of its citizens.

Singapore has a zero tolerance on bad behaviour. They achieve this by being tough on those who break the rules. The phrase "political correctness" is non-existent. You talk on your cell phone in a car; you lose the phone and $500. You eat on the train and there goes another $500. Drop a lolly paper on the ground and that will cost another $500, all of this compliancy and not a policeman in sight.

I only saw two policemen over the week I was there. I am told that 50% of taxi drives are working policemen. What a novel idea - cheap taxis and crime fighters in one package! But then again Singapore is full of novel ideas that make this city so safe and prosperous. The place is run like an efficient organisation. Why, because Singapore has an over-riding policy of 'zero tolerance for poor performance and bad behaviour'.

We have become so PC in this country that people are too afraid to do anything for fear of repercussions from fringe groups and individuals. This permeates into our work force. Managers are constantly accepting below average performance - why?

In many cases the manager has hired a person who does not 'fit' the job and once hired they try to "fix" the problem by embarking on a treadmill of coaching and training, or a mixture of other "touchy feely" processes. Let me tell you straight up, if you have hired a person who does not have the innate personality, mental ability and attitude (this can only be measured through psychometric profiling) to do the job, no amount of training will make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. You might as well toss the training budget - and the six months of your time pandering to the situation - out the window!

Poor performance must be addressed immediately. The longer it's left, the worse it will get. Then one morning you'll will wake up and decide, enough is enough, go to the office and deal with it in an inappropriate manner that will probably cost you an expensive personal grievance claim.

Usually you will find three kinds of employees - have a look around your team now - you'll see people who were born to perform well, some who have the capacity to perform well and those who will never perform. Jack Welch, the famous American CEO use to grade his team into A, Bs and Cs. The As were groomed for high things. The Bs were trained to maintain, or fill the A slots and Cs were targeted to be managed out.

Often managers take work off the Cs and lump this work onto the As because they can be trusted to do quality work without a fuss. So the Cs get rewarded for bad performance and usually get the same take-home pay as the As. Here we see motivation working in the negative. There is motivation to perform bad because you get paid to do nothing!

It's time to get tough - "zero tolerance for poor performance" should be your new mantra. Don't allow the C team the luxury of passing off their responsibility to perform - set goals, introduce targets, measure output - ride hard, reward well.

Usually when the pressure to perform comes on, these slackers fold like a deck of cards and leave - you goal is achieved. But be aware when you are looking for the replacement, the next candidate lining up to work for you could be the joker who was dealt off the deck of the last company because of poor performance.

As organisations we have three opportunities to do something about our people performance. The first is at the front door - hire the right people first time - hire for attitude, train for aptitude. AssessSystems has a number of psychometric assessments that can test for employee attitude before you hire.

The second opportunity is training and coaching your current people - ideal for you're A and B people, but a huge waste of management time and money if you never got the first opportunity right.

And finally, show the poor performers the back door - almost impossible to achieve in today's litigious employment environment. Getting rid of poor performers is a long morale sapping, customer killing, bank balance denting process.

Singapore is not perfect and there are huge human rights issues with entry-level workers, but their 'zero tolerance' policy is a living demonstration of how it can drive productivity and efficiency.

"People" are the only lasting competitive advantage you have, so here's another mantra - hire tough and manage easy.

Human Resources
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