Over the last few years I have learned this lesson many times over: You can keep your high performing team members, or your low performers, but not both.

Not everyone belongs in every team, and the difference between high and low performers is quite large. But it is uncomfortable to address underperforming team members, even when it’s obvious that someone is not working out and will not be able to change. Most managers would prefer not to deal with the situation directly, for a variety of reasons such as:

  • They believe that having someone in the position is better than an empty seat.1
  • They know that hiring is a lot of work and they don’t want to do it.
  • They hope things will get better magically.

As a result of keeping bad performers, they lose good ones, because eagles don’t fly with turkeys. Few things demoralize high performing team members more than seeing their managers avoid dealing with low performers.

Worse: low-performers sometimes get put into positions where they can hire. And another law I’ve never seen violated is this: A-players hire A-players because they want to surround themselves with high performers; B-players hire C-players because they want to make themselves look good. Keep a lower-performing team member whose job includes hiring, and you will very soon have a bunch of mediocre hires, and an insane amount of politics designed to maintain this status quo by making it hard to figure out what’s really going on.

  1. In my experience this belief is always wrong, regardless of extenuating circumstances. [return]