You believe you have a problem employee, yet don't know for sure...
I recently received a Groupon email with a very catchy subject line – "Life Doesn't Come With a Pause Button." That made me chuckle for a moment, then I got back to my work, teasing out the root causes of several client problems. I do this by deconstructing a problem into three basic elements – people, process, and technology (PP&T).
I always like to give people the benefit of the doubt, so I first envision process improvements and technology enhancements to fix the problem. Hopefully, these changes will address the situation, because process and technology are the easy elements to change.
Where's the "Change" Button?
Even if process and technology changes can fix the situation, people will have to adapt to these changes. This can range from embracing the changes enthusiastically to rending of garments and gnashing of teeth. It would be so much easier if an employee could be quickly reprogrammed to upgrade their skills, improve their motivation, and even spark their creativity. Alas, people aren't equipped with cybernetic implants like Neo in The Matrix, so you just can't flip a switch and change someone. People don't come with a "Change" button.
People issues – whether small, such as adapting to changed technology, or major, such as a genuine performance problem – require patiently working through several essential steps.
Step 1 – Keep Management From Immediately Pushing the "Fire" Button
Sometimes, I have to tell a client that one of their people is most likely the root cause of the problem. And sometimes the client gets so frustrated they just want to fire that person ASAP. That is when I have to point out – in an emotionally intelligent manner – the smart thing to do is to try to improve the employee's performance. This might involve developing a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP), discussing the issue with the employee, ensuring they understand the issue and the required performance, and setting a date for a follow-up meeting to review progress against the PIP.
Even if the client does not have a formal discipline policy, and even if the client is small enough that some workplace laws or regulations do not apply, going through a PIP process helps protect the business from a potential wrongful termination claim or higher unemployment insurance premiums.
Step 2 – Address Process and Technology Issues
Fortunately, most times people are not the root cause of problems. Here at Todd Herman Associates (THA), we assume employee performance will improve when they are given better process and technology. Indeed, it's very gratifying for us to see employees adopting the improvements we've helped them make, and then take off running and never look back.
If one or more employees do not get on board with the changes, that's a people issue requiring management’s attention.
Step 3 – Minimize Potential Excuses
Employees sometimes cite other factors – some legitimate, others just excuses – hampering their performance, factors beyond the process and technology issues we've been engaged to address. If this occurs, we recommend management address and fix legitimate concerns while the process and technology improvements are being made.
Some potential excuses and possible fixes include:
- "I didn't know I was doing anything wrong" – Provide clear and accurate feedback on how what they're doing is causing specific problems.
- "I never received any training" – Document, step-by-step, the existing process, fix any problems you find (and you WILL find at least a few), and use the new documentation to train them.
- "The computer reports are not right" – Determine whether or not the reports are working correctly. If they are, train the employee how to properly interpret and use the report. If they are not, contact the developer about a fix.
- "I don't have enough time each day to do all that" – Have the employee keep a daily time log, preferably in 30-minute increments, and review it together before they leave for the day or first thing the next morning. (I am always surprised by how few employees have ever done this!) Doing so may help one or both parties revise their expectations.
Step 4 – Decide How to Proceed
Hopefully, the preceding steps have produced satisfactory employee performance. If so, congratulations.
If not, and assuming you have done everything you can once process and technology elements have been addressed, and once other concerns have been resolved, this might be the time to decide what to do about an underperforming employee – the people element.
One decision could be to just tolerate the performance issue – however, such a decision would likely create its own issues.
Another decision might be to assign a different person to take over the work. As a result of improving the process and technology, and better defining the people component, you will have done your best to pave the way for the new person to succeed.
Teasing Out People, Process, and Technology Issues
Do you think you have a people problem, yet you can't definitively prove it? Contact me, and let's talk about your people, process, and technology situation, and jointly zero in on the real culprit.
Your problem might be out-of-date technology or a convoluted process – if that's the case, THA can help you. If it truly appears to be a people problem, remember – people don’t come with a “Change” button, so we are happy to refer you to others who can help.
Todd L. Herman