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The ‘C’ word

By Chris Clovis

Chris Clovis BlogCancer. A frightening term no one enjoys using. Ugly, pernicious and deadly in any form, even as a metaphor. In this case, I’m referring to the Cancerous Employee – as harmful to your business and as difficult to eradicate as the biological version.

But where do “C-word” employees come from?

Members of a sales organization can be measured with two axes: Skill/Ability and Engagement/Passion. As illustrated below, the horizontal axis is Skill, and the vertical is Engagement. We then build a matrix with four major quadrants:

Screen Shot 2014-05-02 at 1.19.09 PM

Now think about your current team:

Your Golden Children (High Skill-High Engagement) always perform. They have a great attitude and work hard, producing results that carry the company. They are the 20 percent that drive 80 percent of your revenues.

Your Grey Goats (Low Skill-Low Engagement) are the organization’s bottom-feeders — the last hired and first fired. They are generally clueless, possessing little ability and even less ambition.

The Green Go-Getter (Low Skill-High Engagement) is the positive eager beaver who unfortunately doesn’t deliver strong results. They’re great employees, just not carrying the weight.

Finally you have the Red Herring (High Skill-Low Engagement). This is the employee with talent, experience, and skill, but a lousy attitude. The knowledge they possess gives them job security, and they know it.

Every dealership contains all four of these archetypes to some degree. Make an honest assessment — remove the personal connections — to identify yours, and then act accordingly:

1. The Grey Goats need to go. If employees, even long-termers, have low skill and low engagement, their lack of passion will prevent them from improving because they simply don’t care. They may be the nicest people in the world, but they’re damaging your business by not moving it forward. You’re actually doing them a favor by letting them go, because Grey Goats will never find satisfaction in their current jobs.

2. The Golden Children: Don’t ignore your Golden Children just because they’re low-maintenance. Golden Children must be given the “R.A.C.” they deserve. R.A.C. stands for Recognition, Advancement and Compensation. Without R.A.C., top performers will eventually leave you for another opportunity. Worse yet, Golden Children sans R.A.C. may eventually transform into Red Herrings. In fact, most Red Herrings started-out as Golden Children.

3. The Green Go-Getter is the one who needs development. These folks have the drive and passion for what they do; they just need skill and experience. If a Green Go-Getter doesn’t develop into a Golden Child, you have only yourself to blame. Green Go-Getters are Golden Children in embryo. Focus on strengthening their weaknesses, with your rockstars doing the coaching. This helps both employees become better and stronger.

4. The Red Herrings are the ones you should be most worried about. They are unteachable and immune to guidance, since they already know it all. Clever, capable, experienced, but lazy, Red Herrings function as if everything revolves around their ego. They know the company better than anyone and use that knowledge as job-security – and refuse to develop people around them. In fact, Red Herrings typically view co-workers as either a nuisance, a threat, or unworthy of their position. Every dealership has one. They constantly complain, painting themselves as victims, always knowing the way things “should be done.” Regardless, Supervisors often fear losing the Red Herring, having become dependent upon their knowledge and experience.

In reality, Red Herrings are a cancer in your organization. Their Machiavellian cleverness and self-importance empowers them to manipulate employees and managers, wreaking havoc via the negative influence they wield. Owners and senior managers are terrified to fire the Red Herring, fearing a vacuum and potential chaos the vacancy could bring.

Often, owners attempt to rehabilitate their Red Herring. Unfortunately, a Red Herring will never revert into a Golden Child within the same company. They’ve seen too much, know where the bodies are buried; and are constantly looking to the past while resisting change. Their worldview is so corrupted from a long-term negative outlook that it cannot be corrected, and their ego will never allow them to become teachable or adaptable. Worse yet, they will continue to spread their bile throughout the organization until the cancer spreads, destroying your team. And like a cancer, they must be removed.

Although painful and scary, eliminating your Cancerous Employee is the only way to save your organization from the corruption they radiate. The immediate positive impact will far outweigh any short-term challenge the loss brings. Your employees will rise to that challenge, no longer being influenced by self-indulgent negativity.

Don’t let fear keep you from performing the surgery your business needs. Let your Grey go, recognize and reward your Gold, develop your Green and cut out your Cancerous Red. Recovery will be speedy, with a healthy, happy, long-term prognosis.

After all, if your business hasn’t got its health, it hasn’t got anything.

Ride On,


Chris Clovis has had the honor and pleasure of 25 years in the powersports industry, currently serving as vice-president of Eaglerider Motorcycle Sales (www.eaglerider.com). Although Chris considers himself a Golden Child, he’s also been a Grey, a Green, and even a Red Herring at one time or another during his career. Chris’ opinions are his own, and do not necessarily reflect those of his employer or clients. Chris lives in Los Angeles with his family. Visit www.chrisclovis.com for more information.

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One comment

  1. Great article Chris,

    This reminds me of a book I read called Bare Knuckle People Management. http://amzn.com/1935618482

    They "classify" employees in similar groups and talk about how to deal with them. One of the biggest mistakes I see new managers make is they try "fix the problem children". This takes away their time from the golden children who are the people really make their business successful, those are the people they should be investing in. I say fire the Red Herring of the companies because even though they may have all the knowledge their bad attitude will quickly destroy your business if you keep them around, they are a cancer. You'll be glad you did in the long run and you'll quickly find out that you really didn't need them as much as you thought you did.


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