Nearly every company has at least one of these types of employees.
The Marginal Employee
The marginal employee is usually a very nice person who is a wiz at part of his job, but is really bad at the rest.
He’s been around awhile, and tries hard to improve; but continually falls back into his old routine.
The trouble is, he’s dragging down the rest of the team.
His manager doesn’t like confrontation. He says of the employee, “Well, he really tries hard and is so sorry about the mistakes and promises never to do it again.”
Months – even years – go by, and this employee gets passed on from manager to manager. There is no documentation because the disciplinary forms seem so harsh. No one can pull the trigger.
The Untouchable Employee
In another example, the problem employee is a jerk but got the job because he’s the cousin of the CEO and is “untouchable.”
The Demeaning Manager
Then there is the manager who is demeaning to her staff, bordering on harassment, but whose sales numbers are off the charts. She is making too much money for the company to let her go.
I received a call from a prospective client with this sad story.
His small manufacturing company was growing. He needed an administrative assistant, so they hired this nice young man who had administrative and spreadsheet experience.
It didn’t take long before they realized he was great with spreadsheets, but lousy with organization and details. Bills weren’t being paid on time, and invoices were incorrect. He was a hard worker, and everyone liked him, but he was unreliable to the point that his supervisor and even this business owner were both checking his work and making corrections before invoices went out.
It was costing too much time and money from too many people. They needed to do something about him, but didn’t know what to do. They didn’t want to demotivate him on the great spreadsheet work, but couldn’t live with the continual mistakes and rework.
When I asked how long this had been going on, he said, “A year.”
Fire his supervisor!
How could a supervisor let something like this go on without intervention? For a year, it was costing the company time, money, rework, embarrassment, and potential loss of credibility and customers.
What is the problem?
Whenever there is an issue, it is always helpful to get to the root of the problem and address it from that vantage point. In these examples, these are the likely roots.
The value of due diligence on the front end of the process cannot be overstated. Generally without exception, people have patterns of behavior. Ask enough questions and check enough references, and you will learn what those patterns are – good and bad. Don’t short-circuit this process in a rush to hire. It could be a costly move.
Most companies concentrate on job training for about a week after a person is hired, if that. But training isn’t something you do the first week and then walk away. Training is a continual process of teaching, testing, observing, and correcting course. This ensures you correct small problems before they become crises. It helps prevent and correct bad practices so they are not repeated.
As a leader, you have a choice – invest your time and focus on continual training or on dealing with continual mistakes.
Managers cannot be ostriches. Train and trust your employees, of course, but never bury your head in the sand. While micro-managing is a bad idea, so is hands-off management. Make it your business to know your business and to keep your finger on the pulse of your operations. Work with your employees to help solve issues and make improvements. Be involved.
Fear of Confrontation
Being a good leader doesn’t mean you enjoy confrontation; in fact, most leaders do not enjoy this part of their work. But a good leader knows it is a necessary and essential part of the job. They will push through the fear, confront the issue, and correct the problem. The key is to remember you are confronting an issue and not a person. This gives you mutual ground to plow through and find a solution. Most of what we think are “people” issues are really just problems and practices that have been allowed to accumulate over time without being confronted.
Keeping them Stupid
This is a communication issue. There are some in leadership positions who operate in utmost secrecy, only telling employees what they think they need to know, and no more. Those who operate this way, however, are missing the value of having employees who know the big picture goals and how their work fits into those goals.
In a truly effective business, a good leader will ensure that goals are communicated clearly and processes are documented and shared from a central source. He or she will ensure employees have the tools, resources, and training they need to perform well…because when your team performs well, everyone wins, including you.
The Superman (Woman) Syndrome
“If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself!”
If you as a leader have ever said this, you have a problem – and the problem is not the employee. The problem is likely a training and trust issue. If you have done your due diligence and hired a highly qualified individual with good character to do a job; and if you have equipped them with vision, tools, and training; then let them do their job!
If they make a mistake (and everyone does at some point), work with them to find a solution so it can be prevented in the future. This process makes them stronger and makes you the real superpower in your workplace.
Past the Expiration Date
“That’s the way we’ve always done it!”
Again, if this is a favorite saying of yours, you have a problem. In a day of advanced technology and changes that happen on a dime, companies can’t afford to just “do it the way they’ve always done it.”
As a leader, it is your responsibility to stay on top of trends and practices. If something truly is working, of course, you would not want to change it. But if something is not working or not working well, be open to new ideas and processes. You must be willing to make a swift turn in a new direction if something is just not working, and as a leader, it is your responsibility to know what that new direction looks like.
Clueless on Managing
In any given company, there is likely at least one “clueless manager.” Now that is not to say, they are unsalvageable. Many have been promoted to management because they were very good at a job, only to learn that management and being good at the work are two very different realms.
The problem with clueless managers is usually not the clueless manager, but the lack of training provided. If you are promoting employees from within, which is a wise and equitable consideration, do yourself and them the favor of equipping them for this new area of responsibility.
This ensures you have a leader who not only knows what to do in the work, but how to build a truly effective team.
To the original point. If you have lousy employees, you may want to start at the top, and ask yourself, “What’s the problem?”
Ask it of yourself and address the issues you uncover.
Ask it of your direct reports and address those issues as well. Chances are, by the time you reach the employee level, the problem there will have been resolved.
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Mary J. Nestor is a leadership and communications expert with extensive experience in identifying issues and helping leaders resolve them to the benefit of the company, the leader, and the employee. For more information on how Mary can help you and your organization, click here to request a free consultation.