Up Or Out

September 20th, 2010 | Posted in Performance Management | Comments Off on Up Or Out

On a recent flight I found myself seated next to a career officer in the US Army. I thanked him for his service and we spent the flight talking about the Army’s approach to leadership training and its “up or out” policy.

“Up or out” means that military officers are expected to continue to acquire new skills and advance in their careers. If they don’t consistently move “up,” then they are asked to move “out.”

Later that week the “up or out” approach came to mind as I was working with a call center client. Like many call centers, this one had a large team of friendly, capable, hard-working, and highly productive CSRs. But they also had a group of persistent poor performers – reps who had failed to achieve service, quality, and productivity standards for months and sometimes years.

This group of poor performers was only about 10-15% of the total workforce. But the supervisors were expected to spend 40-50% of their coaching time with this small group. And despite this intensive and focused coaching, many of the poor performers did not improve.

Firing employees is never easy. But who benefits when perpetual poor performers stay on the job without any obligation to improve?

Not customers – who don’t receive the courteous and high-quality service they deserve, or have to wait far too long to receive it.

Not other CSRs – who have to work harder to take up the slack and correct the problems caused by their less capable colleagues.

Not supervisors – who squander most of their precious coaching time with agents who cannot or will not improve.

Not the company – which pays for poor productivity and pays again when customers defect to competitors because of poor service.

The bright side of today’s challenging economic environment is that there are plenty of people with good skills, strong experience, and positive attitudes who are eagerly looking for work. Isn’t it time for your company to take an “up or out” approach to managing performance?

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