The Plus Side of Firing Low Performers (Addition by Subtraction)-by Jim Sullivan Copyright 2008

 In our role as unit managers and hospitality providers we are encouraged to create and foster a culture of kindness among crew and customers. But that presumes we have a team of high-performers in place in our restaurants that both value and are worthy of respect, development and kindness.

“Get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.” –Jim Collins, author, Good to Great

In our role as unit managers and hospitality providers we are encouraged to create and foster a culture of kindness among crew and customers. But that presumes we have a team of high-performers in place in our restaurants that both value and are worthy of respect, development and kindness. Unfortunately, most managers don’t see firing low performers as being “kind” (although it is). And so restaurant managers (and multi-unit managers) choose the path of least resistance when it comes to addressing performance issues: either delay or inaction. As a result, the wrong people stay on the team too long, driving away the right people too often and driving down your profits too quickly. Soon both brand standards and customer counts slip, and now you have a “team” of low performers committed to mediocrity on the best days and apathy on the worst. Manager expectations and standards are then lowered when hiring new crew and a vicious cycle begins of accepting low performance as standard. In these tough times the one sure thing you can do to insure a successful future is to trim the dead wood among your crew and manager ranks and develop average performers in to exceptional ones.

“Restaurant managers underestimate the importance of pruning low-performers in order to build a high-performing team,” says Larry Flax, CEO and co-founder of the California Pizza Kitchen chain. “A GM and their junior managers must invest in developing their crew daily and also frankly assess who on their team is either unable or unwilling to perform up to or beyond brand standards and guest expectations. They must overcome the ‘fear of firing’ if they hope to improve their people, performance and profits in the near-and-long term. Managers tend to avoid terminating low performers because of either under-developed leadership skills or an underlying fear of wrongful termination lawsuits. But if the person in question is clearly performing below standards despite guidance and coaching, or if they willfully violate established policies or procedures, the manager owes it to the team, the company and themselves to stop avoiding conflict and prune the deadwood.”

The truth is that some turnover (of the people who aren’t contributing) is good. But low performers, once surrounded by other low performers, are unlikely to leave by choice. People like to work for people who like them and are like them, so if you notice some of your units are heavily weighted with Falling Stars, take a keen look first at the management team. (Recognize that some low performers are actually high performers in disguise but will only perform up to the manager’s expectations.)

I’ve long maintained that it isn’t the people you fire that make your life miserable, it’s the people you don’t fire. Restaurant owners must train and empower unit managers to better understand their roles and responsibilities, take charge of their talent pool, and help them enforce brand standards relative to tenure and turnover.

How can you or your managers realistically tolerate and retain low performers given all that they can do to negatively impact your brand? Here are two lists that summarize the upside and downside of either retaining low performers or pruning your deadwood:

Keeping low performers on your team:

 

  • Means positions are full and you don’t have to place a want ad
  • Increases theft
  • Lowers productivity and sales
  • Wastes manager’s time on daily disciplinary issues, reports and discussions that could be better spent building business
  • Drives away high-performers
  • Sends a terrible message to everyone else: “You can under-perform consistently and complain regularly and we still have a place for you, in fact, a place right alongside our most valued employees and even a place interacting with our most valuable appreciating asset: our customers!”

 

Benefits of swiftly terminating low performers:

 

  • Brand standards, values and character are upheld
  • High performers stay longer (and recruit their friends)
  • Other low performers are put on notice.
  • Average performers typically raise their game
  • Crew is more focused
  • Customers get better service
  • Managers work and sleep better
  • Means the manager may have to cover a shift until a better person is hired
  • Productivity and profitability rises

 

Logically, which choice makes the most sense? Ever see a great team in a bad store? People are your brand. We’re not in the food and beverage business serving people, we’re in the people business serving food and beverage. Now is the time for your company to sit down and have a serious heart-to-heart about who’s pulling their weight and who’s pulling you down. Give a lot, expect a lot, and if you don’t get it, prune.