Do You Have “Loyal” Non-Performers?

“I know I should probably get rid of the guy, but he’s been with me twenty-five years; he’s loyal.”

If you’ve ever managed to whine out a lame version of this “he’s loyal” rationalization to justify your defense of mediocrity roll this publication up, hand it to the nearest person and ask them to smack you in the head with it. Frankly, if you dare fathom the perpetual cost and misery that accompanies keeping a “loyal” non-performer you’d agree a simple whack on the head is getting off lightly.

For any of us who have had access to a dictionary during the course of our lifetimes, there is no excuse for confusing a word like loyal with concepts like “seniority,” or “tenure.” The following three definitions may help you discover that people you’ve labeled “loyal” do indeed have seniority and tenure, but are far from being loyal employees:

Seniority: status obtained as the result of a person’s length of service.

Tenure: the length of time in a position or office.

Loyal: faithfulness to one’s duties and obligations.

The truth about loyalty is found in its definition: “faithfulness to one’s duties and obligations.” This indicates that not only does the person show up to work, but he or she steps up while there and performs well. Based on this definition, you could also say that one of the most disloyal things someone can inflict on an organization providing their paychecks is to stop getting results. At the end of the day, to maintain a healthy organization loyalty must be assessed as thus: not solely by the amount of time someone puts in, but by what someone puts into the time; continued performance worthy of your organization.

When I discuss this topic in my Up Your Business 2.0 Super Leadership Workshop the discomfort amongst attendees is palpable; especially from tenured employees representing their organization. Thus, I should also clarify something very important: if you have long-time employees, and they continue to perform well, they are your “A” players. You need to take good care of them, because you can’t really ask for more than performing consistently well over a long period of time. But, if you have to choose between performance and tradition; performance and sentimentalism; performance and old-time’s sake, you need to do what’s right for the entire team, your culture, standards, momentum, morale, personal credibility, and the customer experience to either get the “loyal” person better, or get a better person.

If you’re still hung up on the “but he’s been with me X years” excuse, consider this: if a couple is married for forty years, an outsider might comment that the gentleman must be a loyal husband to have stayed married for so long to the same woman. But, if in the course of those forty years he was detached, indifferent, selfish, and had multiple affairs you’d probably change your assessment that he was loyal. The time he put in would be subordinate to the fact that the behaviors he put into the time were unacceptable, and sometimes egregious.

As much as we may appreciate long-time service, the sad truth is that tenure can become a license for laziness. This is not a certainty, but is a real possibility and is in evidence in positions where seniority rules: college campuses, certain government jobs, and the like. Whenever one takes something for granted he is likely to become lazy in that area: take your health, kids or marriage for granted and you may be compelled to abandon sound disciplines that you once paid attention to in those arenas. A job is no different. When one starts to take it for granted, which is common amongst those employed there for many years, they are prone to let up, believe rules or standards others must meet don’t apply to them, and start to expect that their tenure, experience or credentials should somehow substitute for results. Incidentally, if this happens, shame on YOU, for perhaps also taking your tenured employee for granted and failing to continue to invest in his development, stretch her with new challenges, or allow performance and behavioral expectations to become vague over time.

Another point to consider is that if you’re going to use the time someone puts into a job as your primary criteria to crown one as loyal, that would also mean the new star employee who has only been with you six months but is outperforming everyone in his department couldn’t be considered as loyal because he hasn’t been with you very long. That’d be a ridiculous way to look at things, wouldn’t it? But it’s actually no sillier than claiming loyalty from an employee simply because he or she has cashed your paychecks longer than anyone else.

My short-list of traits that helps determine loyal employees is simple:

  1. They perform in a manner that meets, and often exceeds your expectations for the position.
  2. They add value to others in the workplace.
  3. They share and live the company core values.
  4. They create exceptional customer experiences that build your brand and increase customer loyalty.
  5. They represent the organization well away from the job, through their behaviors and by speaking well of it.

If you have a “loyal” non-performer, don’t get trigger-happy after reading this piece and overact by firing him; at least not yet. Chances are that you’ve got a lot invested in that person and should do all you can to turn their performance around before letting him go. I suggest you do the following if you desire to keep him in the position he’s in:

  1. Have a frank and specific conversation with him concerning his performance.
  2. Take responsibility for allowing him to veer so far off track on your watch, but pledge to do your part to define expectations immediately.
  3. Redefine what you expect and by when. Put it in writing.
  4. Affirm that you’ll do what you can to help him get there and that you’re pulling for him to make it.
  5. Pre-establish an appropriate consequence for him not reaching the desired performance level.
  6. Know that if you must remove him because he didn’t perform adequately, that you will not have caught him by surprise, and take solace in the fact that you gave him an opportunity to right his course. While you were firm with him, you were also fair.
  7. Move on.

Now, look reality dead in the eye and deal with it.

Closing Note: I’ll cover many of these points live at Best Training Day Ever, January 22nd in San Francisco.

Bio: Dave Anderson is President of LearntoLead, a speaker and author of 12 books. Follow his tips on Twitter @DaveAnderson100.

Previous articleThe Principal’s Office – Matt Lasco
Next articleRemember: “It’s the Culture, Stupid!”
Dave Anderson
Dave Anderson, “Mr. Accountability,” is a leading international speaker on personal and corporate performance improvement. The author of 14 books and host of the wildly popular podcast, The Game Changer Life, Dave’s message has impacted leaders in nearly 70 nations. His “in-the-trenches” background of starting and running world-class businesses, coupled with his relatable non-academic approach, creates an unmatched connection that resonates with audiences and moves them to action. Follow Dave on Twitter @DaveAnderson100