You can’t quite put a finger on why you don’t like these folks. They are just affable enough to get along with everyone, but nothing sticks. Nothing extraordinarily good or bad is generated by the Teflon employee. These are folks who arrive and leave with clockwork precision and they do approximately what is required, in an ordinary fashion. Their follow through is just adequate enough to not raise objections, and they don’t ruffle any feathers.
So deep down, beyond the small talk, do you get a bad feeling about these nice people? If so, congratulations. You want better. You believe in improvement and possible even in excellence.
Often, in order to just keep the company moving, ordinary can work just fine.
However, the Teflon employee actually understands extraordinary and chooses to be ordinary. They may sling a few dull barbs about participating or knowing how to improve, but Teflon folks just can’t find their way out of ordinary to be an proactive part of improvement.
Have they been beaten down to ordinary in a prior company where that was a good thing? These folks exist in healthy, innovative company cultures, and despite that, they will not embrace that culture. As Teflon employees, they are just a small pain in your day, not causing enough grief to warrant action, but this is why you avoid their desk and have short conversations only.
What can you do? If their role is critical enough that a major upgrade would greatly benefit the company or a project or a department, then carefully review the job description and make modifications if needed to include higher level expectations.
Then pick a few hot buttons and press way. Introduce tasks that require higher level thinking and action. Take them outside their comfort zone and load them up with the same expectations that you’d have for a superstar in that position. Then wait just a little bit for the result. Your two actions will either be positive feedback for someone who has stepped up, or documenting a stepped discussion on accountability until that person is gone. Whether they stay or leave, this is one way you can scrape Teflon.