Scale Up Skeletons #5 – The wrong person in the right job

Halloween may be behind us, but there are still plenty of skeletons coming out of the closet. This is number 5 in my series of short lessons-learnt from the companies that I’ve been involved with over the last few years together with reflections on what I would do differently next time around.

This one always makes me feel uncomfortable…

The story:

I’m generally a positive and tolerant person and like to see the best in people.  Unfortunately, this can lead to an “over-tolerance” of the corrosive influence of a toxic employee.  I’ve seen the negative impact of this several times in my career.  Sometimes the person is good at their job, sometimes they are merely adequate (but at least they are there and get the job done!).  Perhaps with some coaching and training I can help them improve.  Sometimes they result in other, often good, people leaving.

When the toxic employee does eventually leave the business, I’m always surprised by the positive effect on the rest of the team.  I shouldn’t be – I’ve seen it many times now; seeing poor behaviour tolerated is a massive demotivator for good people.

The impact:

The loss of energy caused by a toxic or underperforming employee is enormous.  As a manager, they consume a disproportionate amount of time and generate an awful lot of stress; they chew-up time and energy that should be devoted to driving the business forward.

The demotivating effect on the rest of the team from seeing poor behaviour tolerated saps energy and output.  We will never know what creative ideas have been lost as a result of good people keeping quiet in the presence of a workplace bully or slacker.


In every case, I wish I had acted sooner.  I think a lot of the reluctance to deal with a toxic or underperforming employee comes from the hassle of recruitment… it takes a lot of time and effort to recruit new staff and others have to cover the workload whilst the team is short-staffed.  Doing a “culture test” at the interview stage is useful – get people-minded team members to meet a prospective employee and listen to their gut-feelings on the character of the candidate.  Some companies are better than others at managing the probation period and use this to really test out a new employee – deliberately challenging them to see how they perform under stress and getting existing employees to feed-back on what they are like to work with when the manager is not in the room.  Ultimately, it’s about being honest enough to admit when you have made a mistake during the recruitment process – we all do it and it’s better to fix the situation rather than persevere with a bad decision.

In the next instalment of this blog, I’ll consider the importance of keeping IT simple.

Telegraph Materials offers advisory services and practical support to fast-growth businesses bringing new materials-science based technologies and processes to international B2B markets.  For more information, see, where you can also find the previous editions of this blog series.

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