Moving Them On Out

June 1, 2006
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Where does the finger of blame truly deserve to point?


"It's a pity to shoot the piano player when it is the piano that is out of tune."
--French proverb

"I've had it with my loser employees. I'm firing the lot of them and go back on the truck solo. Fewer headaches, less stress and more money in my pocket! They are outta here!" How many times have you been said this? If so, join the crowd. All of us have hit the breaking point with our employees, myself included.

But before you impulsively fire your entire staff (or even one difficult employee), stop and reflect: are you sure their poor performance is their fault? Or does the finger of guilt at least partially point at management? (We all know who that is!) So before you go through the wrenching agony (for both you and them) of firing non-performing employees, please meditate on these "Eight Tough Questions":
  1. Have I been crystal clear on what I expect? One of my favorite sayings is, "Clearly defined expectations are the basis for all successful relationships." Truer words were never spoken. All too often we "just assume" an employee know what is expected. The answer? A written company handbook and a structured orientation program for all new workers.


  2. Have they received adequate training? As an industry we generally do a terrible job on training. A good description of typical training would be throwing a new hire to the wolves! Remember, we're not just talking how to "squirt and suck" here either. Far more important than technical topics is explaining the complex Emotional Dynamics of working inside a woman's "castle," her home. And don't forget that training needs to be ongoing. Oddly enough, the main benefit of employee continuing education has nothing to do with improving job quality. When you send your employee to industry seminars you are silently saying, "You are important to me." Invest money in your employees' professional develop and watch both their attitude and performance soar.


  3. Am I both rational and consistent? Nothing is more important than building your business around the emotions of your customers. But never make business decisions emotionally. Remember that your employees have put their entire economic security and future in your hands. They deserve a calm, competent hand on the tiller of the company. Are you a capable captain that instills confidence among your crew? Or does the entire future direction of your company consist of who you had lunch with last?


  4. Do I practice what I preach? Nothing demoralizes employees faster than a hypocritical company led by a boss that, as the Indians used to say, "Speaks with forked tongue!" For example, you may say that nothing is more important than great customer service. But if your entire focus as a company is on production and profits, this discordance is extremely confusing and discouraging to employees. I say "make Cheerleaders" and the profits will take care of themselves.


  5. Is it truly a long-term problem? Be very careful on this one. Marginal employees are experts in converting you into a co-dependent, shouldering their care and sharing the guilt for their behavior. Simply put, most short-term problems really aren't temporary. Instead, they are "life problems" that most likely will never change simply because the individual does not truly see the need to do so. As Jeff Bishop told me once, "Steve, you're not the United Way". And neither are you. Sometimes the kindest thing for the employee and the best thing for you is to help them on their way toward their "next opportunity."


  6. Have they been treated with respect and dignity? People have a funny way of acting exactly the way in which they have been dealt with. If an employee feels slighted or undervalued, they tend to respond in like manner. This knee-jerk response becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: "They don't appreciate me here so therefore I will live down to their expectations." I'm not defending this immature and negative behavior, mind you. Just calling it like it is.


  7. Do I set the example? Whoa - this one hurt, didn't it? You as a leader must set an example in the qualities and actions you demand from your staff. If you don't measure up, how can you possibly require it from them? So ask yourself, "Do I set the example in my personal life for how I would like my employees to live and behave? Are my moral values as high as I expect from my workers? Do I display a ‘sense of urgency" in business?"


  8. Am I calm? Child psychologists say to never discipline your children when you are angry. In the same way, never fire an employee in the heat of the moment. You are not thinking clearly and they are upset. With emotions running so high, at the very least you will lose an employee that might be worth saving. At the worst you may be placed in a violent workplace situation. Let tempers calm on both sides, reflect on the previous questions and then, if you can honestly say "yes" to all seven - get this marginal loser out of your company and out of your life.


  9. Bonus Question: Do I pay my people enough? Bear in mind that a marginal individual will not perform better if you pay them more. However, the words of L.L. Bean are just as true today as they were almost 100 years ago. "I always felt that if I paid 20 percent more than my employees could earn doing the same work elsewhere, I would get 40 percent better employees," he said. So how do you stack up on the "20 percent" test? By paying well above average, you will attract and keep a higher-quality individual, thereby relegating the Eight Tough Questions to the dustbin. Even better, working side by side with good people will bring peace, joy and a deep sense of satisfaction to your work life. And if you can't afford to pay your employees more all the more reason to raise your prices!


I recognize that the topic of employees, especially the ones who truly are losers, is not the most exciting topic. Yet of all the varied management hats you wear, nothing is more important than searching out quality employees for your company team. Part of this quest includes cutting your losses and getting rid of the marginal performers. No one is a perfect judge of human character before hiring a new worker. If you were, you would be wealthy and powerful and certainly would not be pushing a scrub wand! Next month we'll examine just why it is so important for the long-term welfare of your company to get rid of your bad employees.

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