Fixing Poor Performers

Case Study

Situation: The hidden and pervasive cost of poor performers

Poor performers are major problem for all managers and organizations; a problem that most managers believe cannot be fixed. However, recent advances in the neuroscience of performance have identified the neural processes of poor performance and have generated methodologies for “fixing” poor performers. What would it mean to an organization to have the poor performers function at the middle of the performance curve or even become top performers? It would, of course, be a great emotional and financial benefit.

Most organizations struggle with managing poor performers. Poor performers consume vast amounts of management’s time and energy with few results. Their errors delay products, lose sales, reduce customer satisfaction, and cause a host of other problems. These require significant management attention. Fortunately, these poor performers typically only make up between 10% and 25% of the workforce.


Improving performance levels at four companies

Unlike other case studies, no single situation fully illustrates how you can “fix” poor performers so in this case study we present four different programs that moved people from poor performance to mid-range and even top performance in a few months. The cases are:

  • Restaurant Managers at a fast-food chain -- 25% of the participants in a program (4 managers) were specifically selected because they were on “performance management” and were close to being fired
  • Customer Business Analysts (CBA) at a high-tech company – This company had a “10% program” where the bottom 10% of a “Ranking and Rating” process (10 CBAs) was to be “moved up or out”
  • Customer Service Representatives (CSR) at a digital advertising company – This company had 40% turnover in its call center, most of which was due to terminating people for poor performance (about 30 CSRs per year)
  • Contract Managers at a health insurance company – 30% of the contract managers were resisting moving from an adversarial to a partnering approach to developing contracts with health care providers and were designated “poor performers” (25 Contract Managers)


Building a Great Best Practices for the Role

The best practices for each of these situations was:

  • For the fast-food chain, the program was: How to create a great service culture in your restaurant
  • For the high-tech company, the program was: How to be a great CBA
  • For the digital advertising company, the program was: How to be a great CSR
  • For the health insurance company, the program was: Building great partnerships with our providers
  • Using the Cerebyte Wisdom Discovery process, it took 3-6 hours with 3-8 experts to create the best practices for these programs

Launching these programs using Cerebyte Sofia

These programs all had formal “Launches”

  • Poor performers were randomly mixed with other performers and were known only to the program’s project manager (i.e. these were “blind” tests)
  • All were multiple onsite launches with from 5-15 participants
  • All were co-led by a Cerebyte Facilitator and a “Coach” (or Coaches) from the client
  • Launches ranged from 1 hour for the Digital Advertising CSRs to 3 hours for the Health Insurance Contract managers

Process followed the Sofia system formats

  • They read the best practice content, discussed key ideas, and wrote anchors of thoughts and ideas
  • Discussions were “very good,” intense and focused discussing critical topics in an organized way
  • Decision was made to share all recorded learnings from Actions
  • Leadership strongly supported process including completing all Actions and recording learnings and will discuss Actions in weekly staff meetings

Guided Application

  • Participants did one practical Action per week (e.g. identifying a business process that needed to change and redesigning that process), requiring about 30 minutes per week, for about 4 months, learning how to better perform their function
  • They met biweekly to discuss both what they learned from the Actions and how they could better drive the transformation. These meeting were very operational and practical
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Quantitative Measures:

Measures were taken of impact for all program with further analysis of the poor performers on these measures. Poor performers in each program showed significant improvement on quantitative measures:

Measure used for the fast-food chain: sales performance:

  • All four of the poor performers increased their sales sufficiently to be in the top 50% including one who was in the 85Th percentile (None were fired!)

Measure used for the high-tech company: position in the Ranking and Rating:

  • All poor performers ranked in the top 25% in Ranking and Rating (they moved up not out)

Measure used for the digital advertising company: change in unwanted turnover:

  • Overall turnover decreased from 40% to 4%

Measure used for the health insurance company: behavioral alignment with the desired partnering model:

  • 360o surveys of attitudes and behaviors showed an average of a 99.2% alignment of all participants with the desired model, with the poor performers indistinguishable from the top performers

Qualitative responses:

Many managers commented on the change in their people including:

  • “I didn’t realize that this type of change was possible. She (his employee) really turned around”
  • The difference between spending huge amounts of my time filling 40% of my open headcount versus being able to focus on serving our customers is wonderful
  • I used to look at this one person and think to myself: “What problems is he going to cause today?” That really wasn’t a good situation for either of us. Now he is one of the most positive and productive members of my team. I look forward to seeing him every day.


  • Analysis of the poor performers participation in the program showed two underlying reasons for the original poor performance that were “fixed” in the program
  • Poor performers initial had no “Purpose” or an incorrect purpose, so their work was either random or mis-directed. The neural work on Purpose in the program achieved close to complete alignment on the Purpose by the poor performers eliminating this problem.
  • Poor performers lacked one or more critical attitudes or skills. The Path to Mastery, in-depth definition of mastery, numerous practice actions and consistent group support led to development of the required skills

Can Poor Performers Be Fixed? YES!

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