Protecting the Innocent: When Good Employees Go Bad
As small business owners and managers, we are not doing our employees any favors when we fail to make them do their jobs. Contrary to wage earner folklore, most small business owners are not heartless scoundrels. Rather, most of us are too forgiving of employee nonperformance. We tend to get attached to long-term employees and we are busy, so often we simply hope they will somehow magically turn around. Unfortunately, this is unfair to both the company and the employee. We enable employee behavior by not correcting it, and over time it reaches the point of no return.
The following are some real-life examples of good employees who were poorly managed and ultimately terminated. Of course, we have changed the names to protect the innocent.
Sarah was smart and a single mom who quickly advanced through the company. She went from receptionist to helping read prints and estimate jobs. Eventually, she was promoted to sales and did well while the market was hot. Frankly, the market was so hot all she had to do was measure jobs and give quotes. The owner repeatedly asked her to visit past customers and discuss jobs, but her personal problems interfered with her schedule and her sales performance gradually slowed. Out of necessity, the owner spent more and more time selling. Ultimately, Sarah went from selling $1 million a year down to $400,000. After 12 years of employment, she was terminated from a $70,000-a-year job.
Joe was a good salesperson and manager. The company grew to $5 million and Joe was appointed to general manager. His role was to continue selling while also managing all the employees. Unfortunately, Joe’s office became a sort of confessional where he listened to other employees’ problems. Eventually he ended up spending most of his time babysitting. Despite repeated warnings, he refused to get out of the office and make sales calls. An office manager was hired, and he still only gave lip service to making sales calls. He was terminated from a $100,000-a-year job.
Bob was a good technician. He was smart but extremely introverted and not a people person. With training and a good company name brand, he gradually moved into sales. For a while he did a great job, as he is loyal and a company guy. He and his wife adopted two children, and he gradually changed his schedule so he could take the kids to school and pick them up. As a result, he was not spending as much time on the job. Ultimately, he was terminated from an $80,000-a-year job because he was only working 32 hours per week.
So what do all of these situations have in common? A boss who did not do his or her job. It is our responsibility to protect our employees, and the best way to do that is to enforce the rules and make sure everyone does their job. Here are some simple rules you can put to use:
Act early and don’t let emotions build up.
All too often we start talking negatively about the person to others and justifying why we are right or wrong. Go directly to the employee. Tell them what is bothering you and what you expect.
Try this format; “When you (describe inappropriate behavior), it makes me (describe how you feel about it). In the future, I need you to (describe the behavior you expect).”
|It is our responsibility to protect our employees, and the best way to do that is to enforce the rules and make sure everyone does their job.|
Let’s take Bob’s example regarding not putting in the necessary hours. “Bob, when you are not working the required hours, it makes me feel like the company’s needs are not being met. In the future, I need you to work the required number of hours.”
Listen and stick to your guns. Let them vent if they are upset but you stay calm. Repeat the performance you expect. If Bob felt it was unfair or gets angry, don’t get sucked into that emotional behavior. Make it clear this is the minimum performance expected to keep his job.
Get the employee’s attention.
You have to force underperforming employees to face the reality they may lose their job. Do something dramatic to make sure they hear you. Just complaining about the same old, same old gets you nowhere. The following is an example of how you might approach the situation and make sure he or she hears you.
“Joe, we have discussed several times about your getting out of the office and back into sales. I wanted to meet you for lunch today to make sure my message is clear. We are going to eliminate your office position. If you do not spend more time selling, I am going to have to let you go. Take the rest of the afternoon off and let me know tomorrow whether you plan to take on this sales role. I look forward to talking with you tomorrow and determining whether you intend to continue working here.”
Start a strategic planning and forward-thinking process.
Work with the underperforming employee and, better yet, include other employees to develop a plan of action that is in the company’s best interest. Set goals and action steps each person should undertake. Check on the progress of those goals one on one in 30 days and have another public meeting in 60 or 90 days. Let the public planning process force employees to become accountable for their performance and at the same time develop a plan where they can stand up and succeed.
Being a boss is a tough job, but workers need bosses, not buddies. As an employer or manager, it is your responsibility to make sure your employees clearly understand what is expected of them. Failure to do this may ultimately mean they lose their jobs. Good people deserve better than that.