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How slackers and hotheads keep their jobs

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Jared Sandberg

Wall Street Journal

In this protracted era of layoffs, you can try to dodge a pink slip through hard work and dedication. Or you could take quick-and-dirty instruction from the office untouchables, those colleagues who manage to commit job-losing offenses without ever losing their jobs.

They come in two flavors that cut across hierarchical lines: folks at the bottom who don't do a lick of work and superstars at the top who behave atrociously. The first category can include laurel-resters, amiable underperformers, or just lucky devils whose shortcomings seem less harmful to the boss than the effort it would take to bounce them. The second includes prima donnas, hotheads and toxic revenue-generators who management thinks possess special powers.

The higher up they are, the more everyone would like to see them canned, but the less likely they will be.

The durability of these colleagues is a mystery to the rest of us who witness unchecked corporate misdemeanors in plain sight. Stopping short of pointing a did-you-see-that finger, even pushovers fantasize about firing them.

In a recent survey conducted by research and training firm VitalSmarts, nearly 93 percent of 963 respondents said they worked with an underperformer or a poorly behaved colleague unrestrained by management. They were seen as undermining "morale, commitment and employee engagement."

Yet, they get away with it because of politics, broken performance-appraisal systems, or managers and peers who don't hold the offender accountable, respondents say. And making the job-applicant pool seem alarmingly shallow, more than half said the untouchable has been that way for more than four years.

"For the life of me I can't figure out how he lasted so long," says Mark Brown of one former colleague who consistently posted the lowest sales numbers on his team. In truth, he was a terrific guy whose friendly qualities included making everyone waffles. "They were good waffles, too," says Mr. Brown. "Fruit toppings, syrup, powdered sugar and whipped cream."

As much as Brown wanted to hang out with him after hours was as little as he wanted to work with him on the job, which meant carrying Littlework's load. "It frustrated me day in and day out," he says.

Paul Garvey had one employee whose assembly-line production was 50 percent below that of his peers. "Previous management ignored the problem," he says, "resolution was going to be far more painful than ignoring it."

They were right: Two verbal warnings and two written warnings later, he dismissed his employee. But when the employee sued for unemployment benefits, he and an HR person had to appear before a magistrate after preparing "a stack of defensible material that would have made O.J.'s attorneys tremble in their $400 Oxfords," he says.

Gerome Kraines, CEO of the Levinson Institute management consultancy, attributes the inexplicable longevity of underperformers to "legacy guilt." That means the person is "someone who has been poorly managed and damaged, and everyone feels guilty about it," he says.

The idea of rectifying an underperformer problem - particularly if there's a threat of a lawsuit - just isn't alluring to the manager responsible. "You've got to take a deep breath, three Xanax, two Librium and two Hershey bars before you want to tackle that," he adds.

Untouchables at the top of companies can create even more devastating problems than their lowly counterparts. The bad-behavior exception becomes the rule - and they get highly paid for it. Michael Urlocker, who worked for various financial companies, saw a lot of frat-house antics, enabled by the following rule: "Anyone bringing home the bacon could behave any way they wanted in the investment world," he says.

Urlocker says one executive did to a CEO's leg what a dog does to a hydrant. Even if the story sounds apocryphal - and Urlocker insists he got it from a credible source - that kind of behavior "was deemed so routine that nobody else thought it was sociopathic," he says. "Within 15 minutes everybody forgot about it."

Personal politics are partly to blame, but the root cause may be bad corporate policy. Rigid ranking systems by some of the most storied corporations reward those making the numbers, even if they don't possess other necessary attributes, such as, say, basic human decency. "It's easier to learn how to make the numbers than to learn corporate values," says Richard Kilburg, senior director of the Johns Hopkins Office of Human Services.

Yet, Garvey says he now works for a company where even the most productive salespeople are penalized in their performance-review scores if "they discount any carnage they may have left in the corporate halls."

Pushpendra Mohta, CEO of Vayusphere, a high-tech company in Mountain View, Calif., has seen dues-payers now "vesting in peace," as he calls it, and rabid producers who say things like, "You want me to close deals or play nice with the crybabies?"

"Well, both," he responds, "but I will take the closed deals first, thank you."

Occasionally, he has been able to move these untouchables out of operational roles and into R&D. But always he wants to give people latitude to turn themselves around, even if it risks sending other employees the wrong message. Granted, he says, "this isn't fair at all."

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Very interesting, as a direct "revenue-producing" member of staff....

I have a colleague who does very little; the design engineer, IT manager and sales manager pick up most of the actual work. However, because the accounts under her name (most of which she did not bring in) earn big bucks for the company, she is treated like a princess and can never do anything wrong. She is mysteriously exempt from having to prospect (which is the suckiest part of sales), and also mysteriously exempt from the "you're never going to make your quota" lectures the rest of us get - despite not being on target either.

She is, however, tall, skinny and blonde.

:whistle:


Make sure you're wearing clean knickers. You never know when you'll be run over by a bus.

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Very interesting, as a direct "revenue-producing" member of staff....

I have a colleague who does very little; the design engineer, IT manager and sales manager pick up most of the actual work. However, because the accounts under her name (most of which she did not bring in) earn big bucks for the company, she is treated like a princess and can never do anything wrong. She is mysteriously exempt from having to prospect (which is the suckiest part of sales), and also mysteriously exempt from the "you're never going to make your quota" lectures the rest of us get - despite not being on target either.

She is, however, tall, skinny and blonde.

:whistle:

is she pretty? i've met some tall, skinny, blonde, toothless girls, who ain't pretty at all :lol:


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tu eres mi vitamina del pecho mi fibra

tu eres todo lo que me equilibra,

un balance, lo que me conplementa

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Very interesting, as a direct "revenue-producing" member of staff....

I have a colleague who does very little; the design engineer, IT manager and sales manager pick up most of the actual work. However, because the accounts under her name (most of which she did not bring in) earn big bucks for the company, she is treated like a princess and can never do anything wrong. She is mysteriously exempt from having to prospect (which is the suckiest part of sales), and also mysteriously exempt from the "you're never going to make your quota" lectures the rest of us get - despite not being on target either.

She is, however, tall, skinny and blonde.

:whistle:

:yes: always good assets in a compnay


Peace to All creatures great and small............................................

But when we turn to the Hebrew literature, we do not find such jokes about the donkey. Rather the animal is known for its strength and its loyalty to its master (Genesis 49:14; Numbers 22:30).

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my burro, bosco ..enjoying a beer in almaty

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I work with under-achievers and hotheads so I catch it on both ends because I'm trapped in the middle of both of these groups mess being in middle management... Grrrrr!!!


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