Know When To Fold ‘Em, Know When To Walk Away

“You have to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em and know when to walk away.” Kenny Roggers wasn’t just talking about love in his 1980 classic song “The Gambler” -- he was also talking about poor performers.


Poor performers can bring down an organization, cripple employee morale and thwart innovation. And all too often poor performers in government are like glue – they stick around. More trouble is that a recent survey from the Office of Personnel Management’s Federal Viewpoint found poor performers continue to plague government.


Tom Fox, Vice President for Leadership and Innovation at the Partnership for Public Service, told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that though the results of the Federal Viewpoint Survey were not surprising, they’re still troubling.



The survey revealed that only 26% of employees believe agencies are taking steps to deal with poor performers who cannot or will not improve. “The current process for dealing with poor performance is fundamentally flawed,” said Fox. “It has been around for decades and there have been very few updates to that system. Based on that Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey data, employees are begging for change.”


Every year between 8,000-10,000 federal employees are involuntarily separated (fired) from federal service because of performance or conduct issues.


“Knowing you have a problem is the first step.  As a supervisor, you really need to talk with your employee about the fact that their performance is unacceptable,” advised Fox. “Oftentimes supervisors assume their employees know they are not performing well, but more likely the employee has probably been rated highly in the past.”


One way to get your poor performers back on track is to set strong performance metrics. “You need to make the goals as specific, measurable and attainable as possible. If you set those metrics, then they know what needs to happen in order for them to progress,” said Fox. “I would set a deadline. Then if you get to a point where there hasn’t been improvement, it doesn’t have to be a nasty experience. You can be and say ‘We’re not making the progress I would a hoped, and I think there’s a better opportunity out there for you.’”


However, metrics mean more paperwork and follow-up. “There are horror stories about the amount of documentation that needs to be produced, but it’s also the same sort a documentation that a supervisor should be producing on a regular basis anyways,” said Fox.


“I’ve seen both in the data but also just in practical experience, working in agencies the decline in morale that comes from having someone who is not performing up to expectations,” said Fox. “When you can get that person to move on, it not only allows you to invest resources in high performers, but it raises the performance of everyone else who seems far less concerned and are skating by.”

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