Posted by Bill Dann

This is our 4th in a series of newsletters digging deeper into Dann’s Principles of Management, the nine principles I developed over 30 years ago, and still find relevant today. To review the original list, read our August 2012 newsletter. You will find links at the bottom of this newsletter for full descriptions of the other eight principles.

Working to the least common denominator

So what is the 4th Principle? “Over time, employees will only work as hard as their ultimate leader and/or lowest performer among supervisory or even peer group.”

I wish I could say that the norm for the human race is that we are inspired by greatness and upon experiencing it, seek to model ourselves after it and improve our performance. If that is happening in your organization, acknowledge it, reward it and nourish it.

But there is a dark side that often prevails in my experience. A small percentage of us simply are unable to produce results. Too much going on in our lives, too many demons; the causes are endless. The damage to a group from such a person can be crippling.

My experience is that the unproductive individual’s greatest fear is being found out. Thus, there is an inherent tendency to inhibit the performance of others so that their own lack of performance does not stand out.

The impact on peak performers

Over time, peak performers who are self-motivated begin to lose motivation if they are around those who aren’t productive. They become increasingly isolated as they are viewed as a threat to the non-performers. In the absence of acknowledgement or rewards for their performance, they become demoralized. What sets in is an attitude of “why bother?”. And, in a very real sense, this is a valid question. Their peak performance is not bringing them rewards and, instead, brings pressure from their peers, as they are labeled as “do gooders” or the like.

The unproductive supervisor

The impact described above is particularly devastating when the unproductive employee is in a position of supervision. An effective supervisor demonstrates peak performance in his or her own work. The integrity of their example to others facilitates their being a great supervisor.

The old saying is “no one wants to work for a loser”. We use that adage to make the case that your employees will help you become a better manager if asked. But it also implies that employees won’t work hard for someone who is not productive themselves

Summary of effect

Thus, over time, those who are unproductive tend to erode productivity of the group and hence, this fourth of the Dann Principles.

How to avoid this effect

It’s not easy.


First, individuals that sow lack of productivity are very hard to spot. They tend to talk a good game, appear busy and engaged, and often have a good deal of energy. The only way to spot them is to actually examine what they produce as opposed to what they talk about producing. What you will find is an endless series of complications, confusions, blaming and the like.

The antidote for the impact of these folks is to foster a culture that measures results and rewards them. It is a culture in which accountability is strong and consistent. It is a culture that is about “results vs. reasons” (why the results didn’t happen).

Lastly, when you have spotted your culprit (through analysis of the actual results produced), be firm in your supervisory action. You will encounter skillful debate, lots of reasons that will appear valid and you will be forewarned that the impact of disciplining this employee upon morale will be devastating. That is because these persons cultivate loyalty from fellow employees to protect themselves. In the short run, your intervention will not be popular and will instill fear. However, in the long run, the peak performers will see that a new day has been created, and they will return to high performance.

What’s been your experience?

I would love to share your experiences with our other readers. E-mail us with your thoughts.

If you are interested in learning about Dann’s Principles 1 -3 and 5 – 9, or the list as a whole, click on any of links below:

Introduction to Dann’s Principles of Management

Principle 1: There is Another Side to Every Issue

Principle 2: What is, IS

Principle 3: There are Politics in Everything, Everybody

Principle 5: The Leader Truly Leads

Principle 6: Being Honest

Principle 7: Consistency

Principle 8: Two Way Dialogue

Principle 9: Everyone will Find Fairness Somehow