Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer caused a stir last year when he announced to the Institute of Directors conference that he culls one in every 15 employees every year. He suggested that all businesses, large and small, would benefit from such an approach.
His views received support from a recent survey by global talent management consultancy Hudson, which found that 77% of 562 executives and senior managers in the UK believe that a fixed quota for annual staff dismissal would boost financial performance and productivity.
The advantages of pursuing this policy were described in Hudson's research as ensuring strong team members are not carrying weaker ones, allowing underperforming staff to pursue a fresh challenge more suited to their abilities, and increasing productivity overall.
Yet, despite these many alleged benefits, only 4% of companies surveyed dismiss a proportion of their staff. The remaining 96% might well be looking at these results and wondering if they should follow suit.
Opposition to culling
Most companies are quick to dismiss the idea. Cathy Monaghan, head of HR at reward consultancy PES, says: "This is a great idea if you want to manage through fear, retribution and paranoia, and create a general air of unease.
"This sort of culling makes people focus on appearing productive, leads to short-termism, and attracts the wrong sort of employees. It's also expensive, as you incur recruitment costs to replace the staff you have culled."
Others raise issues with the practical implementation of the idea. "What is the right percentage?" asks Chris Howe, director of ChangeMaker, an HR and change management consultancy. "If you pick an arbitrary number such as 15%, how do you know that is right? What if you have only 7% of underachievers, and you are therefore throwing out 8% of good people?"
Nearly one-quarter (24%) of respondents to the Hudson survey believe that deliberately dismissing underperforming staff increases morale among the rest of the team. But for Hamish