Management must address performance problem

Dear Joan:
One of our management people has a severe drinking problem; and has been admitted for treatment in the past.

This person is rarely at work. Since some of the job requires frequent customer visits, the absences are attributed to that. He/she has visited customers smelling of liquor (we no longer have these customers).

The person's immediate supervisor is on medical leave, so nothing is being done. Everyone is upset because they are all working very hard, and this person gets away with this.

Upper management is aware of the problem, but has chosen to ignore the situation.

Meanwhile, we have many unhappy employees, to say nothing of the customers we are losing!

OK. All of you, who think this person should be fired, raise your hands. The question is why hasn't it happened before this? Customers have been lost, absenteeism is evident, treatment for alcohol abuse has failed...what on earth are they waiting for?

Although this is an extreme example, it serves to illustrate what happens when nothing is done about a performance problem. In a case like this, upper level managers often fool themselves into thinking that other people in the organization don't know what is really going on. Yeah, right. Ironically, the co-workers are usually the first to know, since they are affected immediately.

A situation like this has more side effects than just demoralized employees. It has organization-wide impact. This offending management employee holds all the other leaders in this organization hostage. For as long as this behavior is allowed to continue, the other managers have no legs to stand on when it comes to expecting other employees to perform to reasonable standards.

Imagine what would happen if another manager confronted a different employee on anything... say, poor attendance, drug use or even sleeping on the job? The employee could simply point to the offending manager and say, "As long as you let him get away with that, you can't make me do anything."

Let's face it: the poorest performing employee always sets performance standards. Managers can preach excellence but if an obvious problem is ignored, the words become an empty joke. A few years ago, a union president told me, "Until management does something about the leakers around here, we know all this talk about quality and culture change is just talk. Those poor performers are hurting all of us. They're an insult to the good employees who are working hard."

Since this employee has already been in treatment for the problem, it seems as if the organization has already been reasonable about helping the person to overcome their addiction. Since that step has already been taken, I don't think the company needs to go any further. In fact, if the organization allows this person to go in and out of treatment repeatedly, without the clear expectation that they must turn this around, the company becomes a social agency instead of a business.

It seems impossible to me that top management knows this has resulted in lost customers but still does nothing. Here is my "Top Ten List of Possible Reasons Why This Person Isn't Fired Yet":

1.      This person is related to the owner.

2.      This person has some special talent or connection that makes them seem indispensable.

3.      This person's alcohol problems and poor performance have been overlooked for years and so what makes this time so special?

4.      This person's boss has never told top management about the problem.

5.      Top management is too busy to deal with it.

6.      Top management hates conflict and giving negative feedback and is hoping it will go away.

7.      This employee has been with the company for a long time and executives don't want to put him or her out on the street.

8.      Top management has never been convinced that customers have been lost...the problem isn't that bad.

9.      There is someone who is doing something worse and they haven't confronted that either.

10. The president is an alcoholic, too.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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