How to Identify Bad Apples (and What to Do With Them)

Management shouldn't be based on performance and productivity metrics alone. Why culture fit is the key to building a strong team

Written by Andy Buyting

Traditionally, businesses hire and let go of individuals based on individual performance. It’s the easiest and most obvious way of managing human resources. That default behavior makes a certain amount of sense: If you are looking at productivity or performance metrics and one individual ranks lower than all the others, it seems reasonable to assume that they’re the problem.

But that’s not always true—sometimes the issue is not productivity, but cultural fit. The best way to build a strong team is to look for individuals who meet both kinds of standards, and to avoid individuals that do not.

Cultural fit is just as—or more—important than productivity levels if you’re trying to build a strong team or weed out bad apples in your staff. The aim is to find people who are a good cultural fit in your company, so that you gain exponential results as a team. When people do not fit in with the culture you have built, productivity will break down across the board. This is true even for high performers who have naturally high productivity levels—if they don’t fit the culture or value the beliefs your other staff hold, it will limit not only their own performance but also that of others on the team.

The question that often arises with this manner of operating is, “What is a good company culture?” The answer question depends on defining the core values of your organization. What character and behavioral traits do you value in others? Be crystal clear about this, and aim for three to six (ideally no more than eight) values. The litmus test I use for defining core values has three important components: Are you willing to fire an offender who does not live them? Are you willing to take a financial hit in order to live them? Do you see them already alive in your time? If these three criteria are not met, then the value in question is simply not a core one.

It is helpful to imagine your team members on a grid, where the x-axis is aptitude and skill set, measured in terms of productivity, and the y-axis is cultural fit, measured in terms of adherence to core values:


Assign letter grades to each based on where they sit on the grid. Your A members will be high in both productivity and core values; C members will be low in both productivity and core values. The middle group is made up of B and B/C members.

When you find bad apples on your team, whether they are C members or extreme—in either direction—B members, you need to do something. Removing a bad apple will free your other team members up to shine. A good rule of thumb is that you can often coach or train along the x-axis (productivity), but it is very difficult to do the same along the y-axis (core values).

When weeding out bad apples, I find it helpful to ask this question: “If I was out of the picture tomorrow, what would my successor do?” This helps remove your own bias from the equation, and helps you do what’s best for the business. You need to make a conscious decision about whether the status quo is acceptable, or if it just isn’t working.

You don’t necessarily have to blindside the employee in question—consider instead giving them a clear action plan with your core values and expected outcomes. In my experience, when given the chance, a quarter to a third of bad apples will put in the work needed to change, while the rest will quit rather than be held accountable. Don’t look down on them for it: Everyone can be an A player somewhere, even if that somewhere is with another organization.

Core values are the backbone of teamwork. Shared belief is what helps bond the team, which in turn increases productivity and workplace happiness across the board. I have seen this not only in my own business, but in the many companies I have worked with and helped over the years. Don’t look for 1 + 1 = 2 teams—focus on 1 + 1 = 3 teams instead. Build teams from individuals who are able to synergize in a way that makes the whole larger than the sum of its parts. And remember: that starts with your company culture.

Andy Buyting is the CEO of Carle Publishing, enabling clients to easily publish and distribute their very own customized print and digital magazines for little to no cost, positioning them as a leading authority in their marketplace.


Do you agree that culture fit is as or more important than performance and productivity metrics? How do you weed out bad apples in your business? Share your thoughts and strategies by commenting below.

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com