I just read a startling article in IEEE Software (Sept/Oct 2004) called "Why Culling Software Colleagues is Popular", by Peter Middleton, Ho Woo Lee, and Shahruk A. Irani.

The article's main points are:

  • The staff likes it when you get rid of marginal performers; and
  • Managers don't like to do it.

A third interesting point was that

  • Erratic performers annoy their colleagues.

The article explains how Jack Welch as CEO of GE implemented a bell curve for giving out raises and forcing managers to let people go. I think Microsoft does this too. Anyway, Welch found it was hard to get his managers to implement the system, and of course, it got harder as time went on, because the curve moved up as the people at the lower end of the curve were let go.

The astounding thing was that the remaining staff loved it. The reason? Those who remained perceived that those who were let go were holding them back.

One of the main ways the "lesser-performers" annoyed their colleagues was by erratic performance. I've had some people work for me that were pretty erratic, but I always tolerated it. This, in spite of people coming into my office to complain about the erratic people on a fairly regular basis. I never had "erratic" as one of my hot buttons for letting someone go. For me to let someone go, their performance had to be obviously bad, or their skills just plain didn't fit what we wanted to do (those latter kinds of firings are really hard).

Now, after this article, I am seriously rethinking that stance. I'm adding "erratic" to my list of things to be on the lookout for in performance. Now that I think about it, I've never seen an employee evaluation form that asks for an evaluation of how erratic someone's performance is. For instance, you can hit deadlines, which is often mentioned on the form, but still be erratic about intermediate work products, and the like, which can cause other people to miss deadlines.

Food for thought.