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Strike down the hidden tyranny of pay for performance

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in Compensation and Benefits,Human Resources

by Linda Galindo

Pay for performance—the practice of compensating your most productive employees more than the rest in an effort to reward and retain them—has become standard business practice.

But rewarding your company’s star employees with the heftiest pay raises might not be enough to keep them from looking to jump ship.

No amount of pay can adequately compensate an em­­ployee who resents a manager for expecting him or her to take up the slack of associates who do the bare minimum. Too many managers lean on their most-valuable players to redo the substandard work of their peers.

But pushing the work of underperformers onto their highly productive co-workers—even if you pay them more—is a risky practice.

Bosses take up the slack

Some managers even take on that extra work themselves. They figure it will be easier to salvage the assignment on their own than to require an underperformer to do it over and do it right.

But that practice encourages underperforming em­­ployees to continue working at less-than-optimum levels. In some cases, poor performers may not even know they’re not pulling their weight because their managers are simply taking care of the revisions themselves or reassigning the work to more reliable employees.

In a lot of cases, these managers are “conflict avoiders” who would rather deal with rework than confront a poor performer and provide the necessary coaching. What they should be doing is turning the underperformed work back to the employee who submitted it.

Cost of conflict avoidance

The fact is that not holding underperformers accountable punishes the organization’s best performers. Your company’s retention rate for its best employees will fly right out the window if managers continue this practice.

When productive, engaged employees want out of an organization, it’s often because their managers refuse to hold their underperforming colleagues accountable. They don’t want to work for managers who find it easier to push the work onto those who will do it right.

Stop burdening the best

Stop productive, skilled employees from quitting by making a commitment to discontinue the practice of rescuing, fixing and saving underperformers. A manager who allows a mediocre employee to get away with substandard results but covers the poor performance by getting someone more responsible to redo the work is doing more harm than good.

While those mediocre employees are slacking off, their highly engaged co-workers are exhausted and too busy to focus on the real work that would make the company innovative, responsive and successful.

Encourage your organization’s managers to:

  • Learn the skill of holding their people accountable
  • Get coaching from a colleague who does this well
  • Role-play the difficult conversations
  • Stop rewarding mediocrity by covering it up
  • Avoid punishing productivity by requiring highly productive employees to participate in that cover-up
  • Realize that “paying for performance” doesn’t ab­­solve a manager from addressing quality-of-work issues with poor performers.

It’s really no solution to have good employees pick up the slack for the lousy poor ones, especially if it means you’re probably destined to lose the best.

If you and your organization’s managers are committed to the success of your employees—from the most productive to the least—take the time to put the unsatisfactory work back where it belongs: with the employees who submit it.


Linda Galindo is the author of two books about personal accountability: Where Winners Live (2012) and The 85% Solution (2009). She is president of Galindo Con­­sult­­ing in Park City, Utah. Contact her at Linda@LindaGalindo.com.

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