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Why The Great Resignation Requires Your Company Not Act Like The Marine Corps!

Written by: Paul L. Glover, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


The motto “No man left behind” expresses one of the Marine Corps’ core beliefs and helps make the organization a world class fighting machine. While I applaud the Marine Corps for the esprit de corps in standing by the principle of “no man left behind”, it isn’t a principle any company should attempt to apply to its workforce, especially during The Great Resignation.

But I’m amazed at how many companies, perhaps out of fear of not finding replacements for employees who leave, are trying to “save” every employee. This attitude persists even though an employee may have proven over and over that they are one of The Working Dead, who, because of their toxic attitude, should have been terminated yesterday.

Of course, this assumes the company even acknowledges that its workforce has The Working Dead in it. Often, when I point out to a new client that The Working Dead may comprise 20% of their workforce, leadership’s knee jerk response is “That may be the case at other companies but it’s not the case at our company!” I then suggest they hold a Focus Group with Front Line Team Leaders to discuss how to improve the company. During that discussion, they should ask participants to rank the employees on their Team as “Core” (the 20% of the Team committed to achieving the organization’s goals and engaged in their work), “The Undecideds” (the 60% of the Team who are semi-engaged and can be motivated to do better) and The Working Dead (Underperformers, who spread their toxicity to other employees on a daily basis). Every participant in the focus group will identify the Core Employees and The Working Dead with no difficulty whatsoever! Of course, this exercise puts the dirty little secret that The Working Dead actually exist out in the open and the Front-Line Team Leaders are then going to expect something will be done about it (awareness/knowledge of an issue creates an expectation action will be taken to resolve the issue).

But even after there is a realization The Working Dead exist and are hindering Teams from being high performing, many Managers and Team Leaders struggle with what to do about them. After all time, effort and resources have been expended to recruit, hire and train The Working Dead. And based on this investment of resources in The Working Dead, managers and Team Leaders deceive themselves into believing that, with just a little more attention and training, The Working Dead can be “rehabilitated” and will become Core Employees or at least somewhat more productive.

However, they're wrong in their belief. It is Employees, not the manager or Team Leader, who decide what kind of Employees they want to be and The Working Dead have chosen to be The Working Dead. The obligation of the company to its employees is not to “rehabilitate” them, but to ensure the company’s reasonable expectations about performance and attitude are clearly known to all employees at the time they are hired and that those expectations are:

  • reinforced on a daily basis and during regular performance improvement and development meetings;

  • that all employees are given the resources and training necessary so they can perform their jobs; and

  • that all employees are recognized and rewarded when they perform as Core Employees.

When the company has made these expectations abundantly clear to employees and an employee fails to meet them, they have chosen to be one of The Working Dead, and because this choice is voluntary on their part, who don't want or deserve an attempt at rehabilitation. What they do need to do is to exit the company as soon as possible either voluntarily, by quitting, or involuntarily through the termination process.

The ramifications to the operation when managers and Team Leaders refuse to recognize the futility of attempting to rehabilitate The Working Dead and don't take quick action to terminate The Working Dead are dramatic:

First, Core Employees are already frustrated with The Working Dead’s poor performance, lack of engagement and toxic attitude and will become equally as frustrated with management if it refuses to recognize and take definite action to address the issue (BTW: the day after one of The Working Dead is terminated, Core Employees will ask managers and Team Leaders “What took you so long?”). The longer the managers/Team Leaders continue to expend time, energy and resources in a futile effort to rehabilitate The Working Dead, the more Core Employees begin to think about leaving a company that tolerates The Working Dead. And once Core Employees begin to think about leaving the more likely they are to actually leave and, even worse, take other Core Employees with them. So, don’t give Core Employees a reason to think about leaving. Don't tolerate The Working Dead!

Second, the longer it takes managers/Team Leaders to address The Working Dead, the higher the risk The Undecided Employees, watching The Working Dead not meet established performance and attitude expectations and getting away with it, will be infected and turn into The Working Dead!

In the best of times, good managers and Team Leaders need to acknowledge The Working Dead exist and take the necessary action to quickly identify and eliminate them from the organization. And, especially during the Great Resignation, this decision to no longer tolerate The Working Dead may be the determining factor between Core Employees deciding whether they should stay or should go.

BTW: To be aware of the negative impact The Working Dead have on the organization and taking no action would be defined by the Marine Corps as a dereliction of duty.

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Paul L. Glover, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Paul is known as The No B.S. Workplace Performance Coach. For the last 30 years, his mission has been to assist Executives, Team Leaders, and their organizations in achieving their full potential.

His approach is practical, hands-on, grounded in the realities of the real world of work, and very results-oriented – but all applied with a sense of humor and panache.

Paul is also a "recovering trial lawyer," a Chicago Bears fanatic, an unabashed Starbucks addict, and the author of WorkQuake™, a book dedicated to how to thrive in the Information Economy and a Member of the Forbes Coaching Council.



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