By Guy Harris

You have tried everything that you know to do. You have encouraged, corrected, taught, coached, sent to classes, partnered them with a co-worker, and they still do nothing right. What next?

The short answer: fire them.

The long answer: start (if you have not already started) the process of “managing them out of the organization” or whatever euphemism you use for your organization’s process for terminating employment.

Now that I have addressed the starting question, I have some questions:

Are they really doing NOTHING right? Is that true?


Are you just so frustrated with one or two annoying things about their performance that you no longer recognize the things they do well or the positive attributes they bring to the team?

I realize it is possible that they are doing nothing right. It is just not what I usually see.

What I typically see in situations where leaders – particularly new leaders – express frustration with someone on their team, is more an issue of barely okay performance than clearly unacceptable performance.

As I have already indicated, if performance is in the clearly unacceptable category, give them a reasonable chance to fix what is unacceptable, and then manage them out if they do not fix it. 

If performance is in the “barely okay” range, the frustration you feel as a leader is more about your personal frustration than it is about a clear negative impact on team performance. While it might be suboptimal, it is not necessarily “bad.” Frustrating, yes. Leading to failure, maybe not.

If this is your situation – frustrating and not leading to failure – the best plan is to focus on helping them do more of the things they do well so that they have less time spent on the things they do poorly. Working with people to “not” do things is a losing battle. Better to replace a behavior with a better one than to stop the behavior. 

The most powerful communication tool for helping people to replace less than ideal behaviors with better ones is positive feedforward. Rather than point out what people did that created less than ideal results, talk about the gap you see between current and desired results and then discuss what to do better next time. The goal is to keep your conversation on what success looks like and how to get there in the future, rather than to focus on the past.

Back to the title of this article: what to do about a team member who is doing nothing right.

First, honestly assess if they are really doing nothing right or just frustrating you with not doing everything right.

In most cases you will find that their performance is annoying rather than failing. If that is the case, use positive feedforward to help them know what to do better next time.


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