Coaching Slugs …What if they just don’t get it??

Coaching Slugs… the uncoachable. Also sometimes known as:

  • Light’s on, nobody’s home.
  • She just doesn’t get it.
  • How’d he slip through HR?
  • The 80/20 rule…

Or, my personal favorite…

  • A waste of time.

As egalitarian and “fair” as we sometimes hope to be, there’s no getting around it — some employees can be a waste of our development time, and we should stop doing that the instant we realize that condition. Make an effort, to be sure, but get better at knowing when it’s time to fish or cut bait.

Perhaps they were mis-hired to begin with; perhaps they were promoted well past their ability to grasp new concepts; perhaps they simply don’t want to do what’s required… I don’t know, and at this stage I wouldn’t spend a ton of your time digging into the “why.” The “what,” is “I’m spending my time for no return, when I could be spending it on someone else for recognizable value.”

Not really much of a choice, is it?

Quality guru Joseph Juran said (loosely paraphrased) that we tend to spend 80% of our time on those things that deliver 20% of our aggregate value. I would argue that, when discussing employee performance, motivation, and one-on-one development or coaching, that figure is much closer to 90/10. Maybe even higher.

Really, how much time do you spend with your highest performers… your top 5%? I’m not talking MBWA face-time, drinks after work, or breakfast forced-marches. Nor am I describing time spent at those infernal time-wasters called “staff meetings.” I’m talking about working with that A-player one-on-one, investing your personal time, counsel and expertise, and making sure that those “A’s” receive more emphasis than the “C’s.”

Let’s be clear: time spent growing top performers is never, ever wasted time. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for lesser beings.

I know this sounds harsh, and decidedly un-empathetic. I assure you it’s not. It’s simple pragmatism wrapped in what’s best for both organization and employee. Let’s face it, if you’re spending an untoward amount of time with an under-performing employee, it’s unlikely that same employee is “living the dream” at work.

Yes, we should do an appropriate amount of development for those employees who don’t quite “get it,” but seem to have both the wherewithal and the give-a-$h!t to grow significantly with some well-thought attention.  But be wary, critical, and skeptical; prepare to cut the cord the instant you realize you are repeating yourself, notice issues of ethics or integrity, or that the employee’s “light” just hasn’t “turned on.”

Remember, development — coaching, training, appropriate responsibilities — are a vital part of growing our future leaders. But they must bring a few things to the table that you simply cannot coach in.  You can’t train them to have a work ethic, for example. They must bring that with them when hired.  You cannot train them to be honest or ethical — someone well before you influenced that past repair.

And most important: some people, no matter how much we want to believe the best, just don’t have the intellect to handle the work at hand. I don’t mean high IQ scores; they just need to have enough gray matter to learn and perform the job at hand.

To quote that master of pithy responses, comedian Ron White, “no matter how hard you try… you can’t fix stupid.”

But you can share it with the competition.

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