office, weakest link, workplace, performance

Identifying the weakest link

by Gabi Anderson Courtney

I have just read a post on LinkedIn from a HR Manager that went along these lines;

“Someone approached me at work and asked if he can work from home indefinitely. When trying to give an explanation why, I told him that I don’t need to know the reason and granted the request straight away. Productivity counts more than presence.”

It might not have been these exact words, but this was the core of it. This was followed by a wave of comments from people asking if she has opening at her company, and stating that all HR Managers should be like her.

I don’t even know where to start the list of what is wrong with this scenario. If someone is freely offering an explanation on such a request, what is wrong with hearing it out? How long has this employee been with the company? How is his track record? Is he a valued employee? How will his performance be measured on the daily basis if he is not present? How does he expect to receive help? How would he be available to help others? And, what is the guarantee that if suddenly more employees will have the same request, they will not claim discrimination when their request is not granted?

I am not saying that I would not grant such a request, but I would want to stand on solid ground before doing so, and I would need to make sure that I have a clear answer to all the questions above, and more. I would also have a discussion with the head of the organization (CEO / Managing Director) and the employee’s direct manager, so we can jointly come to a decision.

What if this person has a legitimate reason for the request, but he is the weakest link? Identifying someone like that does not always equal the person who is the least productive on paper.

A while back I have joined a company and one of my first jobs that I have assigned for myself was to get to know each and every employee well. So, I read everyone’s file, performance reviews, and everything I could find. Then I went and met everyone in person. I don’t like to summon people into my office, instead I went and found them where they work, had a quick chat to everyone, and observed them in their natural surroundings, so to say.

One guy stood out like a sore thumb. He was borderline rude, obviously not happy to see me, and by far the least productive employee. He’s been with the company for over 10 years, and never been put on a performance management plan. His file was nearly empty, just the basic paperwork, not a single warning, or performance meeting notes in site. I simply did not understand. So I went to see the CEO. He laughed and said “I should’ve told you about John”.

As it turns out, John knew his job and the industry so well, that everyone went to him for help, and that’s what he did; passed on his knowledge and helped everyone out. Because of this, his productivity suffered in a major way, but the CEO decided to prioritize – he was more valuable as a teacher than a worker. And as for his rudeness, the pervious HR specialist simply stepped on his toes way too many times, so he had no love for anyone in HR. (Took me about 3 months to get him to like me, and it was so worth it.)

It’s not easy to identify the weakest link and to see who would benefit from extra training / performance management / mentoring, but it is possible. There is a very long list of signs that you should watch out for, and while one or two might not mean a thing, a lot of them together, without any explanation or reason can be a warning sign.

So what to look out for? Someone who calls in sick a lot, especially on a Monday or Friday. The person might have used up all their sick leave, or even their annual leave, and are taking unpaid leave for “being sick”. Often late and blames outside circumstances for this (traffic, etc.) Misses deadlines and blames others. Not willing to take any responsibility for substandard work. Colleagues try to avoid working with them or socialising with them. You need to micro-manage them to ensure that there are no mistakes in their work. They are always the first to leave and unwilling to put in any extra time, paid or unpaid. Not engaged when it comes to the organization’s goals. I could go on and on.

The weakest link can be turned around; I have seen some miracles happen in the workplace, but it takes time and effort. The first step is to allow people to change and support them on the way. If they don’t take the opportunity, they may not meant to be there.