Weeding the Employee Garden

Weeding the Employee Garden

Even if you do a great job of hiring and developing your employees, there will be occasions when some will not perform up to your expectations. More than any other problem, today’s business owners are burdened by many employees who aren’t capable of moving the company forward. Unfortunately, these are often people who have been with the business owner for a long time, maybe even from the very beginning. And, they’re often family members!

No matter who they are, if any employees are not capable of moving you forward after you’ve made a genuine effort to develop them, you MUST make a change!!! If you had a machine that wasn’t performing, you’d replace it with a better one as soon as you could. Why, then, would you allow someone to continue performing a function that he or she is no longer capable of doing effectively? The answer is not a simple one. Nor is it easy to make a change when you may have a close personal relationship with (or may be related to) the employee in question. But consider the effect that this situation might be having on others in your organization who resent it, and whose performance might be slipping because of it.

It doesn’t mean that the sub-standard performer needs to be terminated. In fact, remember that you are probably the one who promoted him or her to the current position, so you are partly to blame for the situation. The right thing to do is first look for another position in the organization where this person will be productive, which is likely to be at least one level below his or her current level. Of course, this often means a reduction in salary, but keep in mind that you must be fair to others in the organization by keeping compensation in alignment.

Make the substandard performer part of the solution. Meet with the employee to discuss his or her performance. Establish quantifiable objectives (standards of performance) that you expect the employee to meet, and then ask the employee what help he or she needs from you in order to meet those objectives. It’s important that you both agree on the objectives, that you establish a reasonable time frame within which those objectives are to be met, and agree on progressively more severe consequences if those objectives are not attained. Do this while sitting on the same side of the desk, so that the employee knows that you truly want him/her to succeed, and that you’ll provide whatever help is necessary. Surprisingly, many employees respond by meeting the goals, but most often this is only a temporary phenomenon. In the end, the vast majority fall short, are demoted or terminated, or leave on their own very soon after you first meet with them. The bottom line is that you have been fair.

Of course the best advice is to avoid over-promoting people. Always ask yourself what type of person you’ll need in that job when your business grows by 50% to 100%. Then, select the very best candidate available, whether from inside or outside the company.

How do you know if an employee has been promoted beyond his or her capability? You can usually tell by the way they accept responsibility, authority, and accountability. If you find you have to keep going back to an employee to make sure something is getting done correctly, or if the employee keeps delegating responsibility back to you, then there’s a problem. You hear a lot today about “empowering your employees,” but you can’t empower them if they’re not capable of accepting the empowerment.

No matter how much care is taken to put the right people in place, there will still be occasions when there is no choice but to remove an employee. This is especially difficult in family businesses where relatives are often still on the job in spite of unacceptable performance.

The longer you tolerate a personnel problem, the harder it is to handle it. It’s unfair to other employees if you don’t hold all people to the same high standards of performance. If you find that good employees are leaving you, but the mediocre or sub-standard performers are hanging around, then you have a real problem.

If your organization is one that rewards people for longevity rather than performance, it’s only a matter of time before you pay the price. While it’s great to have employees who are part of your organization for many years, it’s more important that they can continue to perform well as their jobs become more complex.

Unfortunately, we often see employees continue to perform poorly, but still receive pay increases. If an employee’s performance falls short of the established standards, then no pay increase should be given. Instead, a plan should be created to raise the performance level. If that same employee’s performance falls short again, it’s time for termination. It’s interesting to note that, once employees understand that they will be held accountable, many of the sub-standard performers weed themselves out before having to be terminated. They know the system, and they realize that there will be no more pay raises until they earn them, so they decide that it’s time to move on.

If your organization has effectively utilized job descriptions, measurable standards, and performance appraisals conducted twice each year, it can significantly simplify the process of weeding-out sub-standard performers. If an employee clearly understands that there are specific, measurable standards that must be met, it will come as no surprise when a performance appraisal indicates a problem since the employee will already be very aware that he or she is not meeting the standard.

When terminations are necessary, the dignity of the employee must always be considered. Remember that you, or someone in your company, was responsible for hiring the person in question. That error in judgement is partially to blame for the termination that now must take place.

After laying out the documented, quantitative evidence of sub-standard performance, as well as the efforts that the company has made to assist the employee in meeting the standards, the conclusion becomes very logical and obvious to the employee. It’s then a matter of trying to help the employee decide what career or company might be a good alternative for him or her to pursue. While you might not be able to provide a good recommendation to that person’s next employer, you can certainly offer guidance to the employee.

Bill Matthews is Co-Founder of The WOW Business Advisory, LLC, and author of Five P’s to a “WOW!” Business. Copyright 2012-2016 by The WOW Business Advisory, LLC. All rights reserved.

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