One Bad Apple

Does, as the old saying goes, one bad apple REALLY spoil a whole bag?

Well, you’d have to ask someone at Trader Joe’s, but chances are they won’t try to figure it out—they’ll just give you a fresh bag (with a smile.)

But I CAN tell you that one bad employee can have a tremendously negative impact on the culture and atmosphere of an organization, as well as the attitudes of the individuals that staff it.

Yet time and time again, I work with clients who, while readily influencing the presence of a problem team member—often at very high levels—are unwilling to even consider taking the necessary steps to do something about it.

“Oh, that’s just the way Josh is,” they’ll respond, with a sheepish grin. “We try and work around him.”

Or, “Ashley doesn’t have the greatest people skills,” they’ll admit, adding, “We try and keep her away from the clients.”

But as I’ve said more than a few times: everyone in your organization is a sales person, regardless of their job title. And any member of your team that has to be kept hidden from your customers not only short-changes your precious human resources, but can do untold damage to your team’s morale.

The issue that plagues many organizations is that behavior, like performance or productivity, can’t really be evaluated without standards, goals, and established benchmarks. “I know it when I see it” might be a convenient way for a manager to monitor poor behavior, but it doesn’t really hold water when action needs to be taken. And far too many companies are, for a variety of reasons, reluctant to establish those standards.

There’s no way around it: a structured and consistent institutional approach to performance standards is critical to establishing a culture of accountability—and these standards must be clearly and effectively communicated to all team members within the organization.

But that’s only the first step—it must be followed by a thorough documentation of deviations from those standards. Acknowledging that Ted is a horrible employee is not enough; you need to be able to define the reasons Ted is a horrible employee—because he falls short of our established company levels of performance and/or decorum, primarily “A,” “B,” “C,” and “D.”

Poorly performing and disruptive team members not only hurt the company by reducing your effective workforce by one; they can also dramatically impact the performance of those around them.  If your customers don’t want to work with Ted, chances are good that your other employees don’t either; and the workarounds they create to avoid him often make their jobs harder, slow down turn times, and have a toxic effect on morale.

Quite often, though, the degree of harm that your “bad apple” may be doing to your company isn’t completely evident until steps are successfully undertaken to remove or relocate that person; it becomes obvious through the resultant soaring morale, productivity, and employee engagement.

And managers who witness such a dramatic turnaround, despite the positive turn, almost always end up kicking themselves for not implementing the change sooner. If you’re faced with the prospect of weeding out your bad apples, start today: use the tools at your disposal, don’t be afraid to have those difficult conversations, and start the process.

Because bad apples won’t ever help your orchard grow big—and you know what we always say: