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When Loyalty Overrides Performance, Part I

By Chuck Violand

June 4, 2018

We all know that loyalty is an indispensable part of any relationship, whether that relationship is in our personal life or in business. In the hierarchy of values, most of us rate loyalty right alongside trust, integrity, transparency, and honesty.

We also know that loyalty is a two-way street. If we expect loyalty from the people in our organization, then they, in return, expect loyalty from us. From an employer’s perspective, this can mean working long hours even when it might involve a personal sacrifice, or being supportive of the business when others might be talking about it unfavorably. From the employee’s perspective, it might mean being provided with opportunities for pay raises and professional growth, or having the employer stand by them when they’ve messed up or when things aren’t going well for the company.

But what do we do when loyalty is taken too far and starts to interfere with the performance of the company? When the devoted bookkeeper, whose skills were perfect when the business was smaller, is unable to handle the needs of the now-larger company. Or the hardworking operations or sales manager no longer has the skill or the drive for the bigger organization the company has grown into. What about loyalty then?

It’s during times like these that we run head first, or perhaps I should say heart first, into the basis of the relationships we’ve built with the people we’ve worked with for years. While our head tells us the employee isn’t performing at the level we need and it’s hurting the company’s growth, our heart tells us there’s a deeper story at play; one that’s about more than just hitting this month’s numbers or beating last month’s KPIs.

I’m convinced that most people who are underperforming in their jobs know they’re underperforming. But it’s the rare individual who will go to their boss and announce it. After all, they have an ego stake in doing a good job, and who wants to risk getting a demotion or a pay cut?

Business owners can also be jaded with the idea that when they were half the size, the person did a great job, and now when the position and duties have outgrown the employee, they are struggling. In many cases, the employee simply may not have the aptitude, either mentally or physically, to perform the requirements of their current job.

Keep in mind that moving an employee out of an area where their performance isn’t measuring up doesn’t always mean you must move the employee out of the company altogether. It can mean finding someplace else within the company where their skills or the situation that may be causing them to perform less than adequately (raising a young family, caring for aging parents, health issues, etc.) are better suited. Many times, these reassignments come as a relief to the employee who knew he was underperforming but didn’t want to disappoint or appear disloyal to the boss. And this reassignment doesn’t always have to be permanent.

As we continue with part II of this series, we’ll look into the issue of loyalty vs. performance from other angles. If you’ve found yourself asking, “what do I do now?” please hang on; we’ll give you lots of information to consider.