Don’t Let Bad Employees Drive Out the Good

Weed out negative employees sooner and everyone will be happier for it.

Take a snapshot of your employee base at the moment. Chances are, there are some amazing, must-keep employees and some that you would be happy to see walk into your office and announce they would be leaving at the end of the month. Fast-forward a year or two and, if you haven’t properly cultivated (and weeded) your workforce, the odds are that the overwhelming majority of employees that have left of their own volition will have been from the must-keep category with few if any from the happy-to-see-them-go category.

The bottom line: employees you’d be happy to say goodbye to will stay and those that you’d be devastated to lose will go.


Because good people have a good track record. They’ll have a credible work history, great references, and they’ll more easily find a new job. They’re also the type who, if they don’t feel they are performing well in the specific role, will either find a way to fix it or be unsatisfied and leave voluntarily because they want to do good work.

On the other hand, bad employees will hold onto the job because they find it harder to find a new one. They may not have the best references, and may lack the confidence to prove their ability to the next hiring manager. For this group of people, the worse they think they are doing or the more visibility that is being called to their performance, the more defensive they can become and, as a result, will look for ways to protect their job, even if it means bringing colleagues or managers down with them.

This may sound extreme and, as with any binary example, it is. In reality, it’s a spectrum, but I’ve seen this pattern over and over again.

Hire Well

This is a moot point when they’re already on the team but is one that you need to think about every time you add to your headcount. I always make sure I hire smart, and hire for our culture — at Ultra Mobile we are growing at such a rapid pace that I want people that are smart, flexible and team players beyond being the perfect skill match. Because, in all likelihood, the role we might hire for initially will not be the role they’re doing before the end of their first year. As our company evolves, so do the roles and our teams, and we are hiring for future potential as much as we are for the immediate need.

Use the Probationary Period

As good as your hiring process is, you’ll never really know how someone fits in until they’re on the job and giving it a go. This is where you can see if they can walk the talk, collaborate and fit in with the rest of the team. Think of it as a three-month probationary period (that many countries have as a legal waiver before the employment contract kicks in) and use this time to test them out and really see if they are working out.

It’s much easier to cut people immediately, as soon as you can tell there is not a fit, rather than waiting until they’ve become more entrenched in the company, a bigger part of the team and more difficult to let go.

Performance Management

This should be done for all employees good and bad, and starts with clear documentation and communication about what is expected — job description that is updated at least once a year to stay current with the evolving role. Performance reviews should then be set up as standard to create a dialogue of what’s working, what needs work, and what the targets are.

If there’s an issue — even a seemingly insignificant one — it should be noted, tracked and communicated, so the employee can take steps to resolve it. You want to fix issues before they can fester and blow up (as these things can). And, if they do go down that path, you want to have all this tracked so you have a full record of the history.

Spot the Bad Ones, and Cut Them Loose

However, if employees don’t take steps to fix issues, even after you’ve communicate with them, I suggest moving onto an informal performance improvement plan, and see how they respond to some light coaching. If that doesn’t get traction right away, make it official, and make it clear what the consequences are.

If this doesn’t get the improvement you need, and the employee is not working to get there, then it’s time to let them go. And fast. At this point, there’s little hope of a turnaround and, the sooner you clear them, the less of an impact they’ll have on the culture and your other employees.

This idea of cutting loose bad employees is not a new one, and there are some interesting and arguably aggressive examples to consider.

Jack Welch famously forced every department at GE to lay-off ten percent of their employees. He wouldn’t freeze hiring — he just knew that, every few years, all managers became saddled with ten percent of poorer performers. By doing this, he increased the morale of the rest of the company and the Must-Keeps appreciated the higher bar and commitment to excellence and stayed longer.

And then Zapas got headlines nearly a decade ago when they started offering new employees to leave. They knew a $2000 “leaving bonus” was far cheaper than the costs of keeping an employee on staff who doesn’t really want to be there.

At the end of the day, everyone wants to do a good job, be valued and know their contributing. If an employee doesn’t feel this way, they’ll be unhappy and can slowly but lethally pull down the culture of any office. We’ve all worked with someone that is miserable in their job and it’s not fun. So focus as much on weeding as you do on fertilizing, so you can keep your culture healthy and your employees happy.

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