How to cut your losses & free the cultural misfits
by George Hedley
May 29, 2019

Filling positions with the right people is a constant struggle. The wrong people disrupt and impede productive workflows, cause problems, complain, make excuses, disrespect others, repeat mistakes, resist personal growth, don’t follow rules, and can’t communicate well with employees or customers. These hires slow down the success of your company. It’s important that owners recognize employees who behave this way and swiftly rid the company of them at all possible costs.

Hiring, Training & Firing

The first step to building a winning team is to hire the players who have upstanding character and a good attitude. These are usually the best people in your market—people who are dedicated to performing, improving and exceeding expectations. The best hires are also accountable and responsible, make good decisions, find solutions, take action, uphold integrity, are committed to professional excellence, and are respectful of others.

The next step is your commitment to training and mentoring employees, equipping them to become the best. This requires an investment of your time, mentoring the employees with the highest potential to make a difference in your company’s future. But most contractors don’t have a formal training program or career development ladder. In fact, many contractors do not conduct any training with employees, instead hoping workers improve through learning on the job.

This lack of training keeps companies stuck, with below-average results, and constantly on the hunt to find trained help. To build a strong team filled with the right players, you cannot accept poor performance. You must be resolute in your decisions and willing to fire repeat offenders. When employees don’t operate within the company’s core values, they must go. Don’t waste time and money keeping the wrong people. Remember: One bad apple rots the entire bushel.

In the “mastermind” peer group meetings I host for construction business owners, we discuss the “train or fire” test—a method in which you ask yourself, “Do I love them or like them?” when deciding whether to keep a certain employee. Almost unanimously, attendees are in agreement that it’s best to only retain the employees you love. Keeping problem employees discredits your reputation as a leader. If you are unwilling to make tough decisions—like firing poor-performing players—your existing employees will lose respect for you, and their quality of work will reflect that.

Focusing on Your Best

The right way to build a team is to focus on your A-players, train and mentor your B-players to become A-players, and eliminate your C-players as quickly as possible. C-players are employees who shouldn’t work for your company. They don’t fit in—like a round peg trying to fit into a square hole. They aren’t happy, and as their employer, you’re not happy with their abilities, attitude or performance. The best thing you can do for poor performers is to free them from your company and let them move on to where they can thrive.

Golfers who pad their handicaps are often called “sandbaggers.” They keep their handicap artificially higher than it should be, so they get a few extra strokes from their opponents during match-play competition. The term “sandbagger” comes from the concept of filling a player’s golf bag with sand so it’s heavier than normal, causing them to get tired, not play up to their potential and maintain a padded, higher handicap. Thus, sandbaggers are able to win games by cheating the system, rather than playing up to their true ability.

When you tolerate poor players or postpone firing them, you act as your own sandbagger. Who on your crew or staff is a slacker? Who causes you grief? Who constantly produces sub-par work? Who has a bad attitude? These poor performers are operating right under your nose, infiltrating your teams and bringing every person on them down.

Cutting the C-players

When employees stop growing or run out of momentum, they become dead weight, slowing down your company’s growth and becoming a hazard to others. When you don’t cut ties with dead-weight employees, other employees are forced to endure them, find ways to work around them, cover for their mistakes and make excuses for them.

As a business owner, you’re inherently busy. And you might feel like your busy schedule prevents you from having time to commit to the task of eliminating C-players and finding better employees to fill their positions. But, by doing nothing and tolerating these poor performers, you’re losing more money than you think. One bad employee can reduce your crew’s efficiency by as much as 25%.

To put yourself back on the right path, make a list of your employees and rate them based on proficiency in the skills crucial for their respective duties. Rate their attitude, character, teamwork and aptitude, as well as their desire to take on more responsibility and leadership. Through this process, you will solidify the list of employees with whom you want to build your business and those you need to let go.

It’s likely that as many as 10% to 20% of your employees are ill-suited for their position, but it’s not all your fault. Not everyone you hired was the right player, and you shouldn’t feel bad about it. You made the best hiring decision you could make at the time. And time often proves that some people meet the job requirements but are just not a cultural fit within your company values.

Right now, you know some of your employees are a bad fit, but they’re still there—a situation that’s equally as bad for their careers as it is for your company. They need to move on to a place where they’ll contribute in a positive way, and you need to help them do that. You should feel good about cleaning out the C-players. It’s the best move for all parties involved. So, toughen up and make the hard decisions. Then, make it your priority to find the right players who can make your company a better place.