Editor's Note: Are all performance problems created equal and do your programs and practices address them thusly? In today's Classic post, Stephanie Thomas draws some insights from a few of our fellow creatures (specifically, phylum Mollusca) to discuss drawing out employees' full potential.
"Fire the slugs. Hold your people accountable for their performance. If they don't solve the problem, then terminate them with respect and dignity. Your good performers will love you," says Jeff Kortes. He says that firing the non-performers (a.k.a. the "slugs") is good turnover and good for retention of employees who perform well.
But before you send your slugs packing to the nearest moist environment, you might want to take a moment and do some zoological taxonomy - not all slugs are created equal.
Consider the sea slug - it's the first animal shown to make chlorophyll like a plant. John Zardus of The Citadel in Charleston, SC said, "this could be a fusion of a plant and an animal - that's just cool."
Being part plant and part animal is pretty cool. But it's also pretty unusual - it doesn't lend itself to fitting in easily into our preconceived notions about what plants and animals are, what they're supposed to look like, and how they're supposed to work.
If you suspect one of your employees is a slug, think about whether she is a garden-variety slug that needs to be sent packing, or whether she is a sea slug who isn't being utilized to her fullest potential in the appropriate role.
Sometimes, to get the best performance from an unconventional employee like a sea slug, you have to think unconventionally. A part animal / part plant organism isn't going to function optimally in a plant-only role or in an animal-only role. You need to capitalize on the unique combination of strengths of your sea slug. Most likely, that may mean reassignment to a different kind of role within the organization.
Sea slugs are of tremendous benefit to the ocean environment. By munching on decomposing plant matter on the sea floor, they help to maintain the delicate balance of the marine ecosystem.
Sure, they're not the stars of the sea like breaching whales or frolicking dolphins. They don't inspire fear in competitors like the Great White Shark. But without these tireless caretakers who often work in the shadows, the whole operation is at risk of failure.
As we move forward from an Information Age into what Dan Pink calls the Conceptual Age, we're going to be confronted with more sea slug workers - artists, inventors, storytellers and empaths.They don't fit in to our traditional 9-to-5 work environment and it's difficult to rate their performance on a scale of one to ten. But without the conceptualizers, the storytellers, and the hybrid plant/animal employees, our whole operation is at risk of failure. We need to recognize the different kind of beauty these unusual employee creatures possess.
Stephanie Thomas, Ph.D., is a Lecturer in the Department of Economics at Cornell University. She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on economic theory and labor economics in the College of Arts and Sciences and in Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. Throughout her career, Stephanie has completed research on a variety of topics including wage determination, pay gaps and inequality, and performance-based compensation systems. She frequently provides expert commentary in media outlets such as The New York Times, CBC, and NPR, and has published papers in a variety of journals.