Deadwood - Great Place to Visit, Don't Want Them on My Team

A few years ago, HBO had an incredible show on called "Deadwood" -- a western about the outlaws and misfits who were looking to literally strike gold in a settlement located in the foothills of South Dakota. In that era, anyone could hit it big if they were lucky enough to find gold -- and survive the ruthless elements around them. The South Dakota bureau of tourism is making a killing on travel packages to this day.

While the ironically named Deadwood, SD may have a colorful history, there is nothing exciting about having dead wood on your marketing team. Unlike their namesake, dead wood will never strike gold, they usually just drag the rest of the group down due to their inability to effectively contribute viable ideas or act as a fully committed team member.

Dead wood is usually identifiable by their lackluster demeanor and unwillingness to change. Their battle cry is usually a variation on the themes of "that will never work" and "I don't know" before scurrying back into their hidey-holes, doing mostly ineffectual busy work. Everyone usually knows who the dead wood is, yet somehow, like cockroaches after the nuclear war, they survive for years, much to the chagrin of the more proactive staff members, who either ignore these creatures or end up leaving your team. There is nothing more frustrating to a vibrant, proactive person than to see dead wood go on for years doing next to nothing, collecting a substantial paycheck and basically riding the coattails of the rest of the otherwise-engaged team.

It's particularly challenging when you inherit a staff and are now left with your predecessor's inability or unwillingness to address this staff member. What matters now for you, the manager, is to act swiftly. Failure to do so will erode your credibility with the viable members of you new staff, who will likely look for other opportunities while you will be left with nothing but the dead wood.

Here's how to flush out the dead wood: Talk to each staff member one-on-one and ask specific questions about their day-to day work, and what they think their goals are. Ask them for some big picture ideas for the department and how they think these ideas will ultimately help the organization. Here is where the dead wood will reveal themselves. If they speak of nothing but their tasks, do not have any ideas or say they will have to "get back to you," eureka! You found one.

Now how to deal with them: the obvious, but difficult option is to get rid of them. Not easy, but sometimes hard decisions need to be made, unless you want your career dragged down by these folks. A less Machiavellian choice can be to give them a chance and work with them. They may have no idea that they are perceived as dead wood. Try and coach them into contributing more. Make them accountable, ask for feedback and don't let them hide behind tasks. Put them in charge of a project and see how they do.

Give them ample time to prove themselves -- they very well may surprise you. If not, you now have a documented history of the opportunities afforded to them to try and improve.

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