How to effectively nurture and prune staff

Photo courtesy of morguefile user  Kevin_P

Photo courtesy of morguefile user Kevin_P

We’ve all seen businesses or product lines that seem to be stagnant or losing ground and then, with the hire of a single individual, pow! Things start to happen. We finally hired the right person, we think, giving them great credit for turning things around. However, the quick turnaround should also give us pause to consider that perhaps we finally separated from the wrong person – the one who either did not fit or chose not to contribute.

The motives for continuing to invest in a failure-to-thrive employee are understandable:

  • A core value is investing in people; we offer training rather than punishment, and work to see the good in people. We especially invest in verbally gifted people with the right words to assure us that they are committed, trying, and succeeding – whether they are or not.

  • Managers are taught to take a long-view and to expect peak and valleys in both performance and product development; we pride ourselves on our mentorship skills to navigate those waters.

  • We care about the people we lead. We’re human. We don’t want to fire someone and put their financial and emotional stability at risk.

  • We don’t want to admit we are wrong, or that our hiring process could have snagged the wrong candidate after so many interviews. We have invested much and don’t want to start from scratch again.

  • We aren’t able to pay high wages and so we try to overlook poorer performance because we’re hiring people who need a lot of training rather than skilled professionals.

  • The company has fostered an H.R. department that effectively ties a manager’s hands when it comes to employment termination. The hassle it creates makes it far easier to keep a non-performer than to fire them, even when the company itself suffers as a result.

Management is seldom an all-or-nothing approach, and so pruning is the soft skill that bridges abandoning a worker with promise or continuing to subsidize a worker in the wrong placement. To develop or polish this skill, here are some hints to keep in mind:

Proper assessments are critical. Is the person’s lackluster performance due to: (1) personal problems they might overcome with HR assistance; (2) skill level that could be furthered with additional training, education or mentoring; (3) mindset, perhaps emotional disengagement, which needs to be addressed with an attitude correction; (4) lack of proper resources such as IT support, time, or staff; or (5) they work in a different manner and may need some accommodation to bring their best thinking or talent forward.

Setting a realistic goal, a deadline, and then evaluating performance is essential. We get what we inspect more often than what we expect. We may have a feeling that someone is working diligently and progress is being made (that’s what they report at every staff meeting), yet product sales continue to lag. Why? No one may know, including the employee, without a matrix established to check both process and performance. One or the other needs adjustment.

We need true accountability from all stakeholders. If we hire a person to do a job, we need it done. Likewise, if we are hired to manage, we need H.R. to establish a process which, while protecting employees from wrongful termination, allows a manager to quickly have a poor performer assessed, assisted, reassigned, or fired. Otherwise, the manager cannot do their job.

We don’t want to confuse those who are not yet ready to bloom, but could – those who need a bit more guidance or support or training – from those who simply are not right for the job. Adopting the idea of pruning rather than cutting or propping up is a great place to start.

About Jody Glynn Patrick

Jody is President of Glynn Patrick & Associates, which provides management consulting, executive coaching and strategic planning services. She is Publisher Emeritus of In Business magazine, which she published for 17 years. Selected as the “U.S. Business Journalist of the Year” in 2007 in Washington, DC, by the U.S. Small Business Administration, Jody has been a business reporter, editor, radio talk show host , and has won other state and national journalism awards. At the same time, she has helped corporate clients grow their businesses -- the basis for her practical coaching advice here. She also was the 2005 Athena Award recipient for her leadership role in mentoring other professional women. Jody will be talking with you weekly on TDS’ blog to share her insights and tips from the C-Suite perspective. Follow on G+.

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