A consulting firm I once worked for conducted a study showing that more than 50% of employees believed their companies tolerated poor performance.

What the employees meant, most likely, is that their bosses tolerated poor performance. The survey suggests that our companies have lots and lots of leaders who practice avoidance. These are bosses who see dysfunctional work habits, laziness, shirking and other bad behavior and, perhaps because confronting these things would be uncomfortable, simply ignore it.

The obvious consequence is that the relationship between the boss and the employee erodes. The boss quietly fumes. The employee wonders why he (or she) isn’t getting more recognition, more plum projects and better raises.

But the boss has a much, much bigger problem. When employees – especially good employees – see bosses tolerate poor performance, they lose faith in the boss. They’re thinking, “My boss is the custodian of my career, my ticket to advancement. For goodness sake, what is he (or she) waiting for? Do I really want to be on a team with a boss who lacks the skills, or the stomach, to confront poor performance?”

When bosses practice avoidance – when, for example, they put off difficult conversations that need to happen – they lose all credibility as a leader with their people. Rarely will an employee speak up and tell their boss point blank, “You’re a loser.” Instead, they gradually lose faith. Eventually their performance declines — why bother doing a good job if it doesn’t matter? — or they leave for a high-performance organization.


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