Rick Phelps

Synchronous Solutions

I am sure all of you have heard the expression, “You need to get the right people in the right seats on your bus,”  That is – if you are going to drive your business to the places you want to go. But that is only part of the equation.

Equally, if not more important, is getting the wrong people off the bus. Too often, when we have the wrong person on our team, we default to “better the devil I know” mentality, thinking it’s better to have someone in the role than no one. This is simply not the case.

Sticking with today’s cliché theme – “One rotten apple spoils the barrel” is the better way to look at this situation. Having someone on your team that is not fully committed does not equate to only having “one seat on the bus partially filled.”’ It actually equates to multiple seats being only partially filled, because not addressing the problem is causing multiple people to be less committed.

A number of years ago we were working with a Rockwell Automation plant in the Carolinas. Business was down, so corporate mandated a 10% layoff across the division. At the plant where we were implementing Synchronous Flow, that equated to laying off 30 people. The GM of the plant pulled his leadership team together to explain the corporate mandate and what he intended to do instead. He was determined to not destroy the great workforce engagement that had been created by our implementation. 

If you want a fruit tree to thrive and bear lots of fruit, you need to keep it pruned. The same is true for your business.The GM asked each of his managers to independently give him a list of the 30 individuals in the plant, regardless of position or department, that they thought had not bought into the program, were problem employees, or didn’t otherwise fit where they were taking the plant. 

When he consolidated all of their lists, there were just 31 names on it. Every manager knew which employees were not pulling their weight.

It was a union plant, so they couldn’t just remove the 31. Instead, they started enforcing the rules rigorously. Within weeks, the worst on the list had been terminated and everyone knew what was happening. Just a few weeks later the remaining problem employees had quit or been fired.

The managers were not the only people who knew who the non-team players were. The comments the managers received from those who remained were largely along the lines of “what took you so Long?!” The plant got a huge bump in productivity. Removing the 31 bad apples was equivalent to adding more than thirty-one additional good ones.

The moral of this story: Getting rid of your non-team players will raise the game of those who remain and are committed.

Here is a second situation that illustrates another positive effect of eliminating the bad apples. When I returned from working with Habitat for Humanity International in Uganda, East Africa, I joined the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity’s board of directors. They were thrilled because they were having trouble recruiting replacements. The same gentleman had served multiple terms as president as a result. 

In a year I was the chapter’s president and we started addressing the problems of the chapter – starting with the 21 of 23 families that were in arrears on their mortgage payments. In the process, two key board members (they ran our Thrift Store, a major source of income for the chapter) took exception to what we were doing. In our December meeting that year, they declared if we didn’t do what they demanded, they would resign. To their great surprise, I accepted their resignations on the spot, asking them to give me the keys to the Thrift Store on their way out. 

Bewildered, they got up, gave me the keys, and walked out. Half our board resigned that night in solidarity. Those that remained, asked ‘now what’? The answer was simple – rebuild.

I padlocked the Thrift Store and put a sign in the window. December was its busiest month, and we were closed.

A week later I got a call from a lady curious about what was going on with the Thrift Store. I explained, and she volunteered to run the store. In a few short months she had far surpassed the best months before her taking over its management. 

It turns out, her husband was a local contractor. He got curious about Habitat for Humanity and started asking questions. He was so intrigued that he shuttered his business and took over as our construction manager.

A number of people reached out about joining the board now that the clique had been removed, and I had no problem finding someone to take over as President after my term ended.

The moral of this second story: you cannot expect to build a great team if you keep your crappy players around.

If you want a fruit tree to thrive and bear lots of fruit, you need to keep it pruned. The same is true for your business.

Laying off employees is the lazy manager’s way to address downturns. If and when the time comes that you need to reduce your operating expenses to survive, prune the deadwood instead. Actually, you should do one better – keep your organization pruned, and you won’t need to consider laying anyone off.

Rick Phelps

Principal – Synchronous Solutions

“We help clients control the flow of information and materials through their system to increase profitability, decrease process times, and reduce chaos.” Contact us at www.synchronoussolutions.com .