A typical asset in a company, such as a freezer unit, vehicle, inventory system, or computer gets regular attention. It is purchased, set up, tested, and evaluated. It is put on a maintenance schedule and may get additional repairs, upgrades, and assessments.

People must be seen as assets as well. If they are not performing at the expected level, they may very likely be causing the company to lose money instead of make money. For example, suppose your team includes a mechanic whose role is simply to make repairs. What is the average amount of time this employee spends on each repair? Is it longer than expected? Does the employee often call on another busy team member to lend a hand? How often does the leader need to step in to resolve low-level problems? Based on these factors, is this person making money for the company or losing money by taking additional time and resources from other urgent problems in the facility?

The skills gap is often a big drain on profitability for employers. It is often hard to measure, lending an air of mystery to performance issues and invisibility to everyday losses. If you were to ask yourself, “Is my team a high-performing team?” you might have trouble answering the question or defining what high performance looks like. Here is one way to look at employee performance so that it is easier to see if they are worth having on the payroll.

In a workforce, a typical expectation is that 15% will be top tier employees, those who perform at a high level consistently, with such characteristics as effective leadership ability, creativity and persistence. About 70% of the workforce will be “meets expectations” employees, the steady, dependable sorts, which do critical work every day. About 15% will be typically the “does not meet” expectations- the ones who hide in plain sight with slow work, and a low-level of competence. Their lack of conscientiousness is seen in rework, poor customer service, and long break times. They may make poor ethical choices, cause damage to the facility and products, and lose valuable direct reports and customers. In Figure 1., the employees on the left are likely losing the company money. And sadly, leaders tend to put up with their low performance, because it feels like they are just too busy to lose a team member, and wait through the recruiting, interviewing and training periods. Instead they rely on coaching, perhaps veiled threats while crossing their fingers that things will get better. Employees like these lose the company money because they are slower, less conscientious, or have any of a spectrum of other performance problems.

Figure 1

Meanwhile, the leader is losing time with increased supervision, coaching and cleaning up after their mistakes. Also, others watch this person get away with low performance, and they start to ask themselves why they work so hard.

Now let’s look at the “exceeds expectations” employees. These go-getters bring as much as 15% higher profitability than their “meets expectations” counterparts. They attract new business with a positive attitude and persistence. They learn from their mistakes and avidly work well with others. They are experience-laden, good news talking, problem-solving company ambassadors, ready to step into critical roles as soon as they are vacated. Don’t you wish you had more?

So how do you choose new employees that have this attitude and avoid those duds who want a job with your company in order to get paid while they kick back as much as possible?

Keep in mind that people are all very different from one another. Some are go-getters with a plan to get better, including being ready to make valuable improvements, contribute in new ways, help others to learn, and even plan to advance someday. Some others drift along, hoping for better situations, pay raises and easier work, but not necessarily having the drive and discipline to make their dreams more than fantasies (that take their mind off their work).   Once they are in the company, it is hard to edge them out again, as they tend to keep themselves just above the unacceptable line out of long experience and dogged practice. They may have a persistently negative attitude, impatience or hostility with other team members and these behaviors, of course, have a ripple effect.