Relax the Axe

If you’ve got employees who are “seemingly always part of problems instead of solutions,” get rid of ’em—and fast. That’s the word, anyway, from G. Michael Maddock and Raphael Louis Vitón of Maddock Douglas, a firm that consults with companies on innovation.

“You don’t want the victims, nonbelievers, or know-it-alls,” the authors wrote in a recent piece for Bloomberg Businessweek titled “Three Types of People to Fire Immediately.” “It is up to you to make sure they take their anti-innovative outlooks elsewhere.”

If Peter Drucker were looking to hand anybody the pink slip, however, our guess is that he’d pick Maddock and Vitón.

Drucker certainly believed in setting high standards, but he often took a dim view of terminations as a way of bringing this about. That’s because all sorts of managerial mistakes can take potentially good workers and turn them into bad ones. So it’s worth answering these questions before wielding the axe: [EXPAND More]

1.     Are your employees buried by trivial meetings and paperwork? “This is not job enrichment,” Drucker warned in Managing For the Future. “It is job impoverishment. It destroys productivity. It saps motivation and morale.”

2.     Do your employees feel they can go straight to the top, if need be? “Every employee at IBM had the right to go directly to the company’s chief executive officer, that is, to Thomas J. Watson, to complain, to suggest improvements, and to be heard,” Drucker pointed out in The Frontiers of Management.

3.     Do your employees understand how what they do fits into the bigger picture? Many fighter-plane factories during World War II had high turnover and bad morale. Then, at one factory, the boss arranged to have a completed plane brought to the plant. “To his amazement, this visit created the most intense excitement among the workers and resulted in an almost unbelievable increase in morale and productive efficiency,” Drucker recalled in Concept of the Corporation.

4.      Do your ambitious employees with leadership abilities get a chance to lead? “Without opportunities for leadership in the work community the ability, energies, and ambitions within the work force may be directed against management and work community,” Drucker wrote in Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices. “They will be negative, destructive, demagogic.”

5.      Have you made an honest effort to reassign someone who isn’t panning out into a new role that better plays to his or her strengths? “People who fail to perform must be removed from their jobs,” Drucker wrote in The Practice of Management. “Whether the man should stay in the company’s employ, however, is a different matter. While the policy governing the first decision should be strict, the policy governing the second should be lenient. . . . A real job—not ‘made work’—consonant with the person’s capacities can almost always be found with effort and imagination.”

Have you had negative, frustrating co-workers or employees? Should they have been fired—or were they a symptom of poor management? [/EXPAND]