No poor performer is truly indispensable


Joan Lloyd is a management consultant, executive coach, trainer & professional speaker. Reach her at Joan Lloyd & Associates, (800) 348-1944, or

Dear Joan:

Do you have any advice for handling an employee who "knows the ropes" and seems to be able to avoid disciplinary action? It seems that when his behavior gets really unbearable and I speak to him about it, he can improve for a short time but then he doesn't sustain it. I document all his performance but then he improves and I have to start all over again.

We have had several conversations about coming in late, missing a lot of work, and long lunch breaks. He's very good at his job but his tardiness and absenteeism have left his team with more work since they handle his share. Needless to say, they are beginning to resent him. I have told him about this but it doesn't seem to have any long term impact on his behavior.

For information on
the Performance Indicator, contact TABIC.

The staff are now making jokes behind his back and even taking bets about how many Mondays he will call in "sick" during a month. I don't want to lose him because he is talented but I fear I will need to do something soon. Any advice?


A yo-yo on a string doesn't spin unless you are exerting constant energy. And your employee's yo-yo performance requires the same constant attention. It's time to stop playing the game and to hold your employee accountable for his own motivation.

I don't believe in chasing a poor performer. A manager's time is better spent with the people who want to be there and who do a good job. When your focus is diverted to hunting down an employee, making sure the employee shows up and then doesn't dawdle over lunch, you have to start asking yourself, "Why am I exerting so much energy when the employee is exerting so little to keep his own job?"

Not only does this employee need to be given a clear message about what is acceptable, he also needs to understand that part of his improved performance must include sustaining it. It isn't good enough for him to meet expectations when you mention it—he needs to improve it permanently.
Until you make that clear, he won't take you seriously and you risk destroying the morale of the good employees. By letting him get away with this behavior indefinitely, you are letting him determine the standard. After all, how can you confront anyone else's attendance or reliability if he is getting away with it?

Here are the steps to take:

1. Talk to your Human Resources Department, if you have one, as well as to your boss about your strategy and ask them to support you. It's no good to implement this strategy if they will undo your decisions.

2. Review all your documentation and summarize, in writing, all the conversations, the dates and the promises to improve. When he starts to slide again, call him in and show him the summary and tell him that you can no longer continue expend this much energy trying to get him to meet these expectations.

In a firm and straightforward demeanor, tell him that he must demonstrate that he can sustain improvement permanently. Then say, "I feel it is only fair to tell you what could happen if you can't turn this around. I would hate to lose you but if you don't fix this, you would force my hand and I would have to let you go."

Then give him the rest of the day of -- with pay -- and ask him to go home and write a specific action plan that will fix this once and for all. This "Decision Day" is designed to make him realize that this is serious and you will no longer tolerate this yo-yo performance. Say, "If you decide that, for whatever reason, that you are unable or unwilling to change, it's been a pleasure working with you and I wish you well."

3. If he comes back with a plan, review it and hold him accountable for it. If he starts down the same path in a few months, he will fire himself.

And while he may be talented and appears indispensable, my experience is that when someone like this finally is shown the door, the team usually heaves a sigh of relief and quickly fills in the gap.