National Association of
Counties * Washington, D.C.
Vol. 32, No.
12 * June 26, 2000|
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Rust in Peace
The behavior and performance weaknesses of a relatively small
percentage of employees drains an organization of supervisory time. These
employees seem to take more from the organization than they return in
productive work. The good news is this percentage is considerably smaller
than the 80/20 rule (described in the HR Doctors article of Feb. 1,
1999). It is perhaps five percent of the workforce the frustrating
The bad news is that this five percent, often clothed in the
protective Teflon coated armor of civil service property rights or labor
contract restrictions, is very hard to manage. Supervisors are hard
pressed to deal with the behavior, attitude and marginal or poor
performance displayed by this group of employees.
In this situation
a form of inertia sets in. By default the organization puts up with,
tolerates or accepts the presence of this marginally productive group. By
its inaction, the agency is not only walking by behavior and performance
problems, it is setting a negative example that will encourage the next
generation of problematic behavior and performance.
response is to reassign or transfer these employees. Perhaps a fresh start
or a different supervisor will cause a behavioral brain transplant.
Interestingly, sometimes this is exactly what happens.
sees that work life in this new environment is more to his or her liking
and that the manager has a lower tolerance for inappropriate behavior. The
employees peers help reinforce the no more nonsense atmosphere of the new
workplace and performance improves while poor behavior reduces at least
for a while.
Unfortunately, more often than not, the change in
assignment only changes the location of the problem. A new group of
employees and supervisors now confronts the dilemma passed to them by
someone else in the organization.
This pass the five percent
behavior has led the HR Doctor to consider what it would be like if every
county created a Department of Grazing in which assigned employees would
be permitted to loiter in a relatively controlled environment.
the Department of Grazing the organizational damage they can do would be
restricted. By clustering together the five percent, the organization
might be better served and the frustrating five percent would merely rust
However, it does not take long for the HR Doctor to
realize that this approach is only the logical extension of the pass the
buck mentality. In fact the organization might be better served if the
Department of Grazing were staffed, not by the five percent of employees
whose behavior or performance is problematic, but the greater percentage
(approaching the Pareto Principles 20 percent) of supervisors who are not
actively addressing ways to improve employee behavior, performance,
recognition and sense of contribution.
If every supervisor
practices the philosophy of not walking by a problem, and of seeking help
from human resources, employee assistance, risk management or other
support units, the organization would be far better off than by
establishing a Department of Grazing. If the organization itself supported
employee development efforts such as a training academy for new
supervisors, performance evaluation processes that link supervisory skills
and performance with financial and peer group recognition rewards, the
idea of a Department of Grazing would never have come up.
reality, the organizations greatest employee problems are not in the five
percent group, but are among supervisors who dont practice corrective
action planning, and who are not consistent, job-related and proactive in
how they make expectations clear to the employees. Follow the sound
practices in the prior sentence, get a little help from your friends such
as HR for coaching and training, and the Department of Grazing can be the
first agency eliminated in a county business excellence plan.
forget to visit the HR Doctor Office at http://www.hrdr.net/.
(Rosenberg is the Human Resources director for Broward
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