The Biggest Loser

I was talking to my neighbor who runs an antique shop and was spending her Saturday afternoon worrying about an Egyptian vase. “I had high hopes when I procured it”, she said to me, a little woeful. “Now I only think about the money I wasted on it!”

“What’s the matter with it?” I asked

“It’s not right.”she sighed. I gathered from the conversation that the vase wobbled, sat a little uneven on the glass shelf she’d placed it upon. The shelf sat on the wall adjacent to the door to the shop, so every time a customer walked in, the vase drummed to the entry. She kept glancing at it a few times a day, worrying it would drop off the and shatter, taking her hopes and precious money along with it.

“I don’t even like it anymore”she said frustrated, “It looks ugly.”

That evening I happened to run by her shop, and noticed the vase. It was unique, not as dainty or pretty as the other vases, but not as sturdy and firm looking as the earthen ware either. An old lady was ambling the aisles and she stopped by the vase. “It shakes”, she said and smiled softy. She ran her hand through the neck of the vase and lifted it, felt along its ridges at the bottom, and said, “It needs some shaving.”

She then looked at my neighbor and asked, “Have you tried placing it on the floor? The glass shelf isn’t giving it enough balance.” Saying this, she walked away.

My neighbor hastily picked up the Egyptian vase and placed it on the floor, next to a tiny potted ceramic holder. We both stared at the vase while it sat, comfortably and perfectly placed, on the floor. It just needed right the place and position.

“It doesn’t look all that ugly anymore”, my neighbor said quietly.

All of this led me to think about the ‘non-performers’in an organization, and how quickly they are written off. Seldom are individuals who fail to meet the expectations of the organization given a second chance. Yes, organizations have various processes and systems to gauge and identify non-performers. Systems like performance management often support such an identification, and a robust Performance Improvement Plan is thought of as an immediate solution.

But how often is a non-performer asked what is going wrong? I’d come across a Skill-Will matrix which said, individuals scoring a low score on Skill and Will typically tend to be the laggards of the organization. I have qualms about the number of times the lack of skill leads to lack of will. Perhaps, like the vase, the individual isn’t in the right position or the right place. Perhaps they possess skills which need a different context or an environment.

And, as much as organizations would like to believe they give a fair chance, human biases do creep in, the grapevine does take charge, sly glances do follow and the individual who knows his or her job is at risk sinks even further.

Corrective measures lie in the design of intelligent systems. Knowledge about interests, but more so the abilities of an individual is crucial. This information, when supported by knowledge of the needs of the organization, wherein a stronghold would be well defined roles, can help in transitions. Movement of non-performers into roles where they would be more suitable. All of this assumes the human tendency and propensity to learn and improve.

Some individuals take time or battle challenges much deeper than their capabilities, and in our business context today, cannot keep up with the pace of the company. But even with them, dignity can be maintained. Often such news passes through the grapevine before official discussions occur. Grapevine has leaks, and most times than often, these leaks are higher up the order. The one and only thing leaders can do, is help in maintaining the dignity of the individual who is let go; for all the hours and years they contributed towards the dream.

In all this, while the individual has to battle remorse, frustration and rejection, the organization stands as the biggest loser. It loses talent; by failing to know where to place whom to gain the best out of them, it loses time; in having to identify a role suitable for an individual who has already lost too much doing something they cannot, it loses respect; from individuals who see how an organization treats their underdogs and it loses money; because the right person at the right place could be creating miracles.



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