Much ado about 54 ‘Poor performers’

Much ado about 54 ‘Poor performers’

Much ado about 54 ‘Poor performers’

In corporate America sacking 54 poor performers would hardly make the news, but this is Singapore.

Barely two weeks into the new year, Surbana Jurong- a Temasek Holdings-owned infrastructure consultancy, let go 54 employees over a period of 2 weeks. Of the 54, 26 were professionals, with nine in senior positions, including managers, senior executive architects, principal architects and principal engineers. So it does look brutal. The press got to know of this. Given the uncertain economic outlook and a lacklustre labour market the company clarified that these were not retrenchments but they had been let go purely for performance reasons.

All hell breaks lose

The matter got onto the radar of Singapore’s Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say. Speaking in Parliament on Tuesday (February 7), he said, “I spent many years with the labour movement and now MOM. To the best of my recollection, this is the first time an employer has conducted such a major termination exercise and announced publicly it was due to the workers’ poor performance,”. If the organisation cannot substantiate claims that the affected worker’s performance is below the required level, the employer may be ordered to reinstate the worker or offer compensation. How could Surbana have avoided this?

A reconstruction of events

What lead Surbana to this situation?

First, Group chairman Liew Mun Leong reportedly speaks ‘vehemently’ about poor company performance, which will drastically affect the bonuses of those business units that operated below par last year, despite efforts to grow the projects pipeline.

Then, Surbana Jurong group chief executive Wong Heang Fine sends staff a strongly-worded e-mail. With extracts reportedly stating: “. . .More importantly, for those of us who want to do great things, why should our rewards be affected by a small group of colleagues who don’t care about how their poor performance affects our performance negatively?“. Another excerpt from the message read “How can we be the best in class and build a great organisation when employees are not concerned with how they are performing relative to their peers?

Then came the axe.

“The only reason people do not know much is because they do not care to know. They are incurious. Incuriousity is the oddest and most foolish failing there is.” — Stephen Fry

Now if we were to pause and ask, What if Mr. Wong could have read and acted on this article. There’s a lot of pressure and people managers tend to focus on what’s most near and pressing. This can result in frustration and a loss of purpose among employees. The concept of “peakism” provides a rallying point for organisational leaders to recalibrate how they should nurture performance.

Why is Peakism important to avoid another repeat

CEO Wong is portrayed as a Peak performer. More here. “I have gone up the mountains, and have descended into the depths of the earth. I have flown in a helicopter without doors to film marketing videos. I have worked for both men and women, in the public and private sectors. At each place, I learnt to adapt to different environments. I find pleasure in doing different things and doing the same things differently,” Mr Wong Heang Fine is reported to have stated. Clearly there are several high performing CEO’s like Mr. Wong out there. The problem is there is a massive blind spot gradient in motivation and productivity, coined as motivity gradient in the space between the CEO down to the employee in the trenches. This is similar to the social gradient of health which refers to the fact that inequalities in population health status are related to inequalities in social status. CEOs need to acknowledge this and address it. Old surrogate methods to find this, do not work.

A group of social scientists have provided a validated understanding and acknowledgement of personal and workplace related barriers that could create insidious poor performers also called Presentees. Good news is there is a well tested way to move good performers to greater ones and poor performers to good in a matter of days. The complete methodology to achieve this was published in HRM magazine 15/12. Referenced here for your convenience. If you need help to implement a pilot in your company please feel welcome to reach out to me.

Best wishes to you in 2017!!

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Gurunath Hari is the author of “The 6 Dimensions, Overcome Presenteeism: Excel in work and Life”. He has over 25 years of corporate experience, including executive coaching, leadership and management roles. He is a Peakism principal Pursuer.

The kindle and hardcopy version of 6 Dimensions book is now an Amazon International Bestseller.

(Disclaimer: The views expressed here are the author’s own)