Don't Mistake Loyalty for Performance

Don’t Mistake Loyalty for Performance

People who were a good fit when you were a small, early-stage company may not be the right fit when your company grows and scales. The people who got you here, may not be the people who can get you to the next level.

They might have been an A-Player once, but performance expectations have outgrown their capabilities. Now this person is a B-Player holding your team back.

It’s a tough decision to remove people who are considered “loyal” employees.

I coach my clients, “Don’t mistake loyalty for performance.” Your duty as a manager is to act in the best interests of the company.

As a personal example, when I was a young sales manager in my late 20’s I inherited an additional sales team as part of a company merger. One of my acquired sales team members was the longest-serving employee in the company we acquired.

Geoff (not his real name) was a jovial guy who was very popular with staff and customers. He was almost twice my age and had far more industry experience than me.

Unfortunately, Geoff was set in his ways and not keen to adopt our company sales strategy. It quickly became apparent that his performance was below the standard I required from my team, and he did not appreciate a young whipper snapper like me pointing this out to him.

I gave myself 3 months to see if I could coach Geoff to improve his performance.

Despite training, role-playing, accompanying him on client appointments, and giving feedback, Geoff could not, or would not adopt our sales methodology. His default approach was to be super-friendly to customers, have a chat over a cup of coffee, and hope they subsequently placed orders because of how much they liked him.

To be fair, the customers loved Geoff. He was a great conversationalist and a juicy source of industry gossip. Customers enjoyed taking 10 minutes out of their day to chat with him.

The problem. Geoff was not doing any selling. He just wanted to be liked. He would leave a few product brochures at the end of his appointment and that’s about it. Questions were not asked. Opportunities were missed. Competitors were making inroads. I was frustrated.

In short, Geoff was a very expensive brochure delivery person. His performance remained below standard despite my best coaching efforts. He was a long-serving loyal employee but lacked the required competencies to execute the sales strategy. There was no other role in the organization I could redeploy him to. He was holding the team back, and by association, he was holding me back.

My top performers started looking at me with suspicion as if to say, “Stephen, you hold us accountable, are you going to make an exception for Geoff?”

You might have heard the saying, “Sometimes you need to shoot a hostage to show you are serious.” It’s a horrible saying, but it illustrates an important management concept.

At the end of 3 months, I negotiated a generous severance package and removed Geoff from the team to demonstrate that I only wanted A-Players on the field.

Geoff was a nice guy, and I felt like a big meanie. But I think of the manager’s role as being like a company director’s role. Your duty is to serve the best interests of the company. It’s not always fun. But that’s part of being a manager.

Here’s the challenge I put to you. If someone on your team cannot meet the performance standard, are you serving the best interests of the company and the hard-working A-Players on your team by “carrying” the person just because they have been with the company for a long time?

I would say “No”. You have to prune the rosebush.

Until next time…
Stephen