A manager’s biggest weakness is…

According to new research by entrepreneurship and finance professor Steve Kaplan, and blogged about by Adam Jones on the FT Management blog, the biggest weakness managers have is a tendency to hold onto under performing employees.

While most of my career is directly due to this peculiar observation*, I did find it interesting that it was borne out by qualitative research by way of interviews with 316 “very” senior executives.

Why is that? According to Adam Jones, the same executives over indexed in “execution-related abilities – aggression, speed, persistence” versus the softer, more interpersonal, team-related skills.

Perhaps it is this aggression and persistence that leads managers to keep on under performers – it shows an overly macho belief that they can manage a damp squib into a world beater?

I’ve always been interested (and, quite frankly, scared witless*) of the Jack Welch 10 per cent rule which dictates that no matter what, every year you fire the bottom 10 per cent of employees.

In an industry where turnover is so prevalent, such as marketing, advertising or public relations agencies, how would this affect staff morale?

Clearly some turnover is good but if one agency routinely got rid of the dead wood in an unemotional detached way, would that attract top talent and clients or would it drive people away (both incumbents and potential hires)?

In an industry that relies so heavily on relationships, would such an unemotional approach to the work place be rewarded?

Putting aside the statistical impossibility of a small agency firing 1.7 of its employees, what do you think about this?

Should the tree be pruned or should the lower “branches” (in terms of performance not seniority) be nurtured?


* this is called being self-effacing.

3 Responses to A manager’s biggest weakness is…

  1. I suspect this can be resolved on a case by case basis. Certainly Steve Jobs has done remarkably well over the years with firing people, ruthlessly and in a completely unattached manner.

    Here’s another track, what if business is about more than business? What if it might be better not to fire friends in the business, and instead work in a more relaxed environment? It might not make for the best business, but it should make for a better lifestyle.

  2. Actually, I’ve found often the most hard-nosed business managers are incapable of sitting face to face and firing someone (let alone working out how to poor performers). They normally delegate the “you’re fired” discussion or, quite often, prefer to promote those who are below par. Indeed, they probably are keen to write glowing references, passing problems onto others.

  3. Brett says:

    I agree with Richard in that it’s definitely a case by case situation. If you work in a large corporation like GE, then the 10% rule can make a little sense. Chances are the workforce is a little plump, anyway. However, if you work for a company with less than 100 employees, then there’s no way you hold fast to a rule like this. It woudl kill morale, and I would say even kill employee motivation.

    In small business, sometimes you have to choose nurturing over neglecting.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: