Tired of the Leaking Toilet?

June 9, 2010

A few days ago, I wrote a post with some advice about confronting employee performance challenges. As a growth capital firm that also provides value-add support to our companies, we are quite often asked for guidance in addressing employee performance issues.

Generally the performance problems we see most often fall into a couple of common categories:

  • Mismatch of skills to job requirements
  • Skills haven’t kept pace with company evolution or job evolution
  • Situational performance issues (employee might be going through personal trauma that is impacting their work performance)
  • Cultural mismatch (or performance problems related to “soft skills”)
  • Poor attitude

I covered the first three points in my earlier post, so now let’s turn to the last two. The last two can be equated to a leaky toilet (or faucet) that may take care of its task perfectly well, but has an ongoing drip that is causing irritation to others, wasting resources (time, energy…or water), and causing structural damage (impact to your team…or rotting floorboards).

Cultural mismatch. Let’s take this one first. Challenges with employee performance in this category may be related to a pure cultural mismatch (for instance, think about a really aggressive and analytical personality-type trying to fit into a laid-back and creative team), or the issue might be an employee who just doesn’t have the soft-skills to play well with others. Because these sorts of employee performance challenges can be more subjective and more difficult to coach or confront, many expansion stage managers will choose to avoid dealing with solving the problem for as long as possible. In some cases, I think the company’s management team hopes that the individual will just quit without ever needing coaching or a conversation.

As a venture capital firm, we hear it all from our portfolio companies and prospects when it comes to employees in this category….”the guy is a genius, but no one can work with him,” or “she is brilliant, but she peeves our Board members in every Board meeting.” In every case, we also usually hear….”yeah, we know we need to do something, but we just [fill in the blank]…”

Trust me, tackle this one sooner rather than later. This employee is impacting the rest of your team. If the issue is truly a cultural mismatch, it won’t change. Help this employee to move on to something that will be a better fit, and will most likely make them much more happy. If it’s an issue with soft skills, you need to make a decision as to whether coaching will make a difference. If you haven’t tried it, please do. If it hasn’t worked, it’s time to move this employee on to a new position or environment where their skills will be a better fit.

Poor attitude.  This one is beyond the leaking toilet or faucet, and is probably much closer to a cancer. (Again, I’m assuming that you’ve already determined whether this employee might have a personal situation that is impacting their work performance, and that you’ve either helped them address it or have determined that they don’t have a personal challenge.) This is truly the employee who doesn’t give a darn about you, your best practices process, the team or the company. Remove the cancer. Do it quickly. Your team is too small and too valuable to be dragged down by someone who doesn’t care. Once the cancer is gone, your team will thank you, you’ll be amazed at how much more focused and energized you and your team will be, and you’ll wonder why you didn’t take care of the challenge sooner.