D Players and Managers

by Colin Berkshire

Colin here.

I read Dave’s post about purging D-players (Improving Your Hand) from your IT organization. I could not have agreed more.

I have risen from the ranks from the lowest-most position to HR director and I have seen from every level how destructive these D-Players are. Not only do they fail to contribute more than they consume, but they demotivate everybody else. They know who they are, and the more they can distract, demoralize, or lower the motivation of other people the less they stand out.

Some of them just sit in their cluttered office, fervently churning paperwork to mask the fact that they are accomplishing very little. Others acquire and hoard critical information so that their termination will leave the company partly immobilized. Some of them work very hard and mean well, but they have the unfortunate knack of making a lot of poor decisions…you feel sorry for these “unlucky souls”.

It’s very difficult emotionally for a manager to terminate somebody…particularly the under-performers. When you have a staff reduction and you must lay off an A-player you know they will get a job quickly–and possibly an even better job. But when a manager terminates a D-player they know deep down that this person and their family will suffer. The next job will be worse, they may not get a job for a while. Empathy makes terminating a D-player a sleepless affair…until it is done.

What I have found is that when you terminate D-players it is a relief for everybody. They know they are faking it. They live in dread every day they report to work. In almost every case where I have terminated an under-performer we have both felt an immediate sense of relief when the shoe dropped.

What I have found is that when you terminate them if you treat them with respect it helps a lot. Compliment them on something, even if it is only their ability to get along with others. Tell others in the office that you are restructuring work assignments (or something that allows the D-player to save face.) Even give the D-player a going away party if that is within your company culture.

I also can share this: EVERYBODY in the office knows who these D-players are. Everybody is wondering why you as a manager do nothing about them. Unless you take action, your own credibility goes down. Your compliments to others become meaningless. You will become ineffective. And, by failing to purge under-performers you immediately drop from an “A” to a “B” or from a “C” to a “D” yourself.

As a senior manager when I spot a D-player and confirm their existence I then immediately take a long look at their manager. I then discuss the D-Player and see why they haven’t taken action and see if it is real or just another D-Manager excuse. In about half the cases I terminate the D-Manager as well. In these cases I make an explicit point of firing both of them at the very same time. This sends a clear message to everybody. Shockingly: most of the peers will come to me and express gratitude and respect.

So I’ll ask this question: Are you a D-Manager?