I'm in an environment where I feel 15% of the team is doing 85% of the overall work. There is a lot of "dead weight" that tends to cause more issues then adding to the company's profit margin. My problem is that I don't feel leadership, be it a supervisor, manager, or even the executive staff, are holding the "lazy" employees accountable.

For example, if an employee causes the entire Production server to go offline for 4+ hours because they unplugged a cord they shouldn't have. And, say this isn't the first time something like this has happened. Even though the actions caused 10+ employees to work all day to find the problem, that person still has a job. I see it as, "Man... that guy just costed the company employee x10 salaries for 8 hours" and management sees it as "Accidents happen".

These types of accidents have occurred for years so I get the feeling that even behind closed doors this isn't taken seriously. So my question is this. How do I change the culture of the company so that people who "do wrong" are held accountable for their actions?

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    I feel 15% of the team is doing 85% of the overall work Do you have any metrics to back this up or is this just your gut? Is it possible that you do not understand what your coworkers are doing because they have been assigned tasks or support that you are unaware of? This question feels like a rant disguised as a question to me. And on the flip side if you make a mistake do you expect that you will be immediately terminated for it? Feb 13, 2013 at 14:13
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    Accidents do happen. Question is why it took so long to fix? Feb 13, 2013 at 16:06
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    There are some (not a lot) of metrics to back this up. For example I have lost 32 hours and 8 minutes the past 3 weeks because of a delay due to another employee. It is measurable though not actively measured. Also, based on speaking with others (the other 15%) the consensus is the same. I don't believe this is a matter of those employees being overworked. When you tell them that something urgently needs to be addressed and find them surfing the web, hanging "by the water cooler", etc. This is not a rant. I don't expect immediate termination either. But come on, three strikes or something. Feb 13, 2013 at 17:20
  • @ThorbjørnRavnAndersen: The question is why these things are allowed to recur. Feb 13, 2013 at 17:31
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    The one example you cite in your question (someone incorrectly unplugging a cable) doesn't seem like something that is obviously the result of incompetence. If someone is supposed to unplug one cable but inadvertently unplugs an adjacent cable, that seems like a pretty honest mistake that could happen to anyone and that is often the result of either a previous person's poor job of running cable or of poor communication. That seems very different than someone failing to prioritize a task. If you edit your question to focus on the latter, I think it would appear less rant-y. Feb 13, 2013 at 22:29

5 Answers 5


Changing the culture of a company is literally one of the most time consuming and frustrating endeavors. You will need people to support you, and you should look to the 15%. Discuss your concerns with them, and make sure that their observations match yours.

Accountability reaps the most benefits when it is practiced peer to peer and not manager to peer. I don't know what tangible metric you use to track your progress, but you need to use this a point for discussion.

Having a discussion with the team about why you didn't meet certain objectives or finish certain assignments is a great start. This will shift the focus to solutions and preventing issues. You don't want it to come across negative.

  • So a follow up question is how do you go about this process without coming across as negative? The last thing I want is (a) for this to become a witch hunt and (b) to come across as a boat rocker. Feb 13, 2013 at 18:46
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    @MAllen22842 This will take some finesse. If you are doing scrum, the retrospective is perfect for this. If not, you may need to call a post-mortem meeting to discuss why you didn't meet some objectives/goals. The important thing is that you are focused on fixing a problem and/or improving process(es).
    – Ryan Gates
    Feb 13, 2013 at 19:03

Truth is that most organizations above a certain size have some dead weight. It is a whole lot easier to hire 5 outstanding employees than 10,000.

Firing people for mistakes just results in a culture where people look for others to blame and where people hide mistakes. So from a management perspective it is unproductuve to fire people for honest mistakes. Firing people can also be more costly than keeping them if their performance is generally acceptable. It is expensive to hire and train new employees who may in fact not be any better than the guy you fired. Further, the company may often end up paying a share for unemployment.

Now all this is not to say that people who make many mistakes shouldn't fired, at some point the cost benefit ratio turns the other way when it is apparent the person cannot do the job. But firing people is hard and requires a level of confrontation that many first line managers find difficult. So many people don't get fired until there really is no other choice.

Your problem though is that you think everyone should be in the top 15% which is simply mathmatically impossible. You need to get used to the fact that in the workplace, most of the employees will be average not great. Small companies can move the bell curve over a bit, but as the numbers get larger, it just is not possible for every hire to be a winner and it is not possible to pay the salary level that the top 15 % can ask for to everyone.

Further, there is the concept of good enough. If the company is making money and the work in generally getting done at a reasonable level of competence, then that is good enough. Not everything has to be done at the excellent level and not every type of job attracts the people capable of working at this level. And if you asked every person in the organzation who the top 15% of emplyees were, you would get a different answer from everyone and it may shock you but you would not be on that list for many of the employees simply because they are not familar with your work as you are not familar with the work of all of them. You might not be in the top 15% for people who are familar with your work. There might even be people who think you should be fired. Perspective is very differnt in different people.

Frankly what you need to do is fix your own attitude and stop looking at other people as inferior. They are better than you in some areas as you are better than them in some areas. Nobody is great at everything and what makes a great accoutant is not the same thing that makes a great sales rep.

  • "Your problem though is that you think everyone should be in the top 15% which is simply mathmatically impossible." I never once implied everyone should be in the top 15%. I feel that if an employee makes a mistake or causes a problem. And it is habitual, they should be held accountable for it. Employees who don't want to contribute by lazily approaching their responsibilities also fall into that category. If given a deadline you should be expected to meet it or come close (10% lag?). "Frankly what you need to do is fix your own attitude..." Is that so? You've provide nothing constructive. Feb 13, 2013 at 17:28
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    There are employees who only make everyone on their team miserable. As in, they are net-negatives to have. When you work with people like this it has nothing to do with your attitude. Firing them will only have their ex-team mates breathe a sigh of releif. Management might not be seeing any down-sides because the rest of the team is stepping up to do extra work around this person. That doesn't mean that everything is A-Ok though!
    – MrFox
    Feb 13, 2013 at 17:44
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    @MrFox Is is possible that from a budget perspective if management is told "You can't increase head count and if you lose an employee the position won't be filled"? So this fear of losing head count causes some managers to keep the bad employees around longer. Mentality being that they might as well keep that person or persons around because they get a little work done which is better than none. Feb 13, 2013 at 17:53
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    @MrFox Sometimes it is hard to tell if the net-negative is the person who worries so much about the performance of others that he makes himself and probably others miserable, or the person who performs so badly everyone else is miserable putting up with it. We only have one person's perspective here. Feb 13, 2013 at 23:58
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    I hate this answer because it is frustrating to see something so clearly and accurately stated when you really wish this was not the case... :-)
    – enderland
    Feb 14, 2013 at 2:24

I have been in this situation before and when I discussed my concerns with ownership, I was shocked that they took the side of the people who were hurting productivity and morale. I've since moved on to greener pastures, but in today's economy I know sometimes staying put and putting up with the nonsense makes the most sense.

What I've found is that if ownership does not care, you cannot make them care. You can try, but generally that works out badly for you. Unless the ownership has enough respect for you that you can chirp in their ear without hurting your career, I think your choices are to accept things as they are or look elsewhere and move along where your motivation and "higher standards" will be an asset and not a detriment.

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    "Why is it that you can not make them care?" Because people can't control the emotions or perceptions of others, one can only try to manage them. "Why is moving on the only option the op has?" Did you read my answer? The other option I gave them is to accept things as they are, a very feasible alternative.
    – JoeT
    Feb 13, 2013 at 19:05
  • Hi Joe, quitting a job is a very big deal, but it sounds like you may have experience with this type of situation. Our criteria in our faq requires answers be backed up with either a reference, or by sharing your own personal experiences to demonstrate this is indeed the correct choice. Consider an edit to your post to expand with references, or your own experiences. Hope this helps! :)
    – jmort253
    Feb 13, 2013 at 20:52
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    I've been in this situation as well, and when you have a highly technical group of people managed by a not-very-technical manager, they don't have any way to know who is in the right and just go on who has convinced them they are the most competent. Projecting competence is a different skill than being compentent, so they might well not accept this type of feedback from someone who has less skill in convincing others of compentence or hasn't been there long enough to gain the same level of trust. Feb 13, 2013 at 23:54
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    Hey Joe! Nice job with the edits. Thank you for following up. This brings it more inline with our goals for great answers that help future visitors for years to come. :)
    – jmort253
    Feb 14, 2013 at 4:32
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    I have been in this situation as well. The person in question kept coming up with large complicated and buggy solutions to simple problems. The whole team disagreed with his appraoch at code reviews, but this person was extremely argumentative and eventually the person responsible for quality of code would say 'screw it, commit it'. We had to rewrite his crap a lot of times. To boot, he had just had a kid and everyone felt bad firing him. Eventually we had to. The only advice I can give is 'tough it out, and keep fighting the good fight' or else leave. These people are intellectual vampries.
    – MrFox
    Feb 14, 2013 at 14:47

If management knows of a situation, and chooses not to act on it, and you are not management, then you are not in a position to force accountability.

It's possible that you are not seeing the whole situation, or don't see it from a management point of view. If you have access to a friendly manager, perhaps you can discuss your feelings, and ask for hers/his. And, not to get too accusatory here, but try not too come across as whiny. Approaching a manager with a "it's not fair, why do they get away with it" attitude probably won't help the situation. You may end up having a manager point out your own shortcomings...

But sometimes changes simply must happen at a manager level, and sometimes you simply cannot affect that, even if you don't think it's fair.


What does it cost to fire and replace someone? A company that has a 15% success rate of recruiting capable employees, may not find an adequate replacement. The good managers are probably over-worked and don't have time to do interviews.

Take an active role in helping find better people. Tell your boss if you know of someone. Getting one more quality team member could make a big difference.

Get these people off of important projects even if it means having fewer resources. If they're as bad as you say, they'll only detract and not add anything.

Management more often has an aversion to people doing nothing than people who look busy and probably cause more problems in the process.

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