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What To Do When You Have a Dud

A "dud" is a technical human resources term for an employee who is not meeting the performance standard. In other words, they are disengaged, a R.O.A.D. warrior (Retired on Active Duty), a seat warmer, C.A.V.E. dwellers (Citizens Against Virtually Everything) or suffering from presenteeism.

Sometimes their behaviour is a cry for help that, if left unanswered, can turn them into a bitter employee. For others it is a game they play to get attention. Whatever the cause the problem is the same: you have a dud on your hands and it's up to you to do something about it! However, instead of taking action most managers ignore the problem hoping it will solve itself.

Why you need to take action

If you need some incentive to take action here are five factors to keep in mind:

  1. There can be legal implications if you let it go on too long. Effectively their behaviour becomes normal and you need to prove their performance has significantly changed to win an unfair dismissal case.
  2. They will start to infect other employees, cause them to leave, disrespect you or start acting like the dud. Think of the dud as being the bad strawberry in the basket with the potential to infect others.
  3. Making up for their lack of productivity is costly. Research by the Gallup organisation shows that it takes 4 fully engaged people to counteract the affect of 1 disengaged person. Do you have 4 over performers for every underperformer on your team?
  4. Increase in your stress levels (eg complaints from others, redoing their work)
  5. Employee engagement impacts the bottom line of your organisation.

Excuses leaders use for not taking action

It's hard work to fix!
The problem here is that the manager is focusing on the effort involved in fixing the problem rather than the benefits of having the problem fixed. The attitude of 'when I get time' is a smoke screen because we all know that things will never get quiet enough for there to be time for this difficult issue.

We really need their skills .
I learnt very early on in my career that no-one is indispensible when I watched a senior manager marched out of his office after being instantly dismissed. Yes, we needed his skills but we survived without him. This manager needs to consider the message they are sending to other staff. If you are not careful, other people will take their lead from this person and also find ways to become irreplaceable.

What about the legal implications?
Absolutely consider the legal implications but don't forget that not terminating them might also create legal implications. What if another staff member puts in a stress claim as a result of the actions of this person? This is where you need the advice of experienced Human Resources professionals. If you don't have them internally, find someone externally to help you work through the steps necessary to terminate someone so you don't end up in court.

What is the cause?

The first step to understanding how to fix a problem is to know how it happened in the first place. In my experience there are a number of reasons that people become "duds", including:

  • You made a hiring mistake
  • You inherited someone else's hiring mistake
  • They were moved or promoted to the wrong role
  • They have been treated badly in the past
  • They have personal problems

Some of these issues can be fixed and others can't. Some are your fault and others aren't. Regardless of the situation, it is up to you to do something!

A 4 step action plan for dealing with a dud

Don't wait until it's too late
Take action quickly before it becomes more difficult and more people are affected. Every now and then a dud can be saved but only if you act immediately.

Get help
Enlist the help of your other employees, fellow managers, senior management and HR. What you need is a united front. Know what you can and can't do to manage the situation from a policy and procedure perspective as well as legally.

Get to the point
When you have a conversation with them, don't dodge the issue no matter how uncomfortable it makes you feel.

Have a plan
Don't just go in ready to fire them. Remember the reasons that caused this and have a plan A and B.

Prevention is better than cure!
To avoid creating a dud (or another dud, depending on your situation) there are 4 simple steps to follow:

  1. Only hire people who are engageable (ie they have the right attitude).
  2. Involve multiple people in hiring and promotion decisions. Not to spread the blame but to ensure you get the right people.
  3. Communicate your expectations clearly and regularly. Don't assume people will interpret things the same way you do.
  4. Fix problems and issues quickly. Get it wrong once, it's human. Allow people to make the same mistakes again and again, that's bad management.

About the author: Karen Schmidt is a speaker, workshop leader and facilitator. Her website is

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