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Should you reward the good or punish the bad?

Hiring, ManagementEdward Kiledjian2 Comments

The old management mantra says “Reward the good and punish the bad”. The fact is most of you have limited time and often have to prioritize tasks. So which one would you prioritize?

The pre-eminent academic paper on the topic is called “Bad is stronger than good” and can be read here  :

They methodically walk you through the research and clearly demonstrate that negative information, experiences and people are far more impactful than positive ones.

The ideal situation is where you reward and accentuate the positive and get rid of the negative. The real world being less than perfect, if you had to chose one, go with the latter. In my previous article, I spoke about my time at GE and how they methodically got rid of the bottom 10% of their employees annually [during my time there]. This was their way of purging the system.

Researchers Felps and Mitchell define negative people as “those who don't do their fair share of the work, who are chronically unhappy and emotionally unstable, or who bully or attack others.” They found that “a single "toxic" or negative team member can be the catalyst for downward spirals in organizations.” -

Felps and Mitchell warn that one bad apple can spoil the barrel but caution not to lump “out of the box” thinkers into the negative pile. Sometimes they can rock the boat but this is done for the benefit of the organization and not because of bad intentions.

Different researches come to different impact results, but all are negative. Whether you read the one that says one bad employee impacts the others 5 times more than a positive employee or the one that claims a bad employee can sap team productivity by 30-40%, the common denominator of these results is to get rid of the bad.

I advocate coaching employees and if you feel you can turn him/her around then give it a shot but don’t waste too much time. The more time you waste, the bigger that person’s impact on your team.

One thing is clear, you must have a zero-tolerance policy towards these “bad apples”. Try to weed them out during the interview and if they somehow weasel their way into one of you teams, quickly show them the door.