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When the "problem" worker becomes a thorn, it's time to assess what you have and decide what sort of housecleaning you should do.

I have a problem employee and it looks like he'll have to go. The problem is that he's destroying morale because he outperforms everyone else. They accuse him of being a show-off, shun his input, and appear to create extra obstacles for him.

I've got a really nice bunch of folks working for me. How do I keep them happy?

The better question is, How do I keep my business running, growing and profitable? Yes, you do need to be doing some housecleaning. To be conservative, though, there are some first steps you should consider with your present cadres.

First Phase: Evaluation of Existing Resources
Evaluate who your poorest performers are in your organization. Determine what it's costing you to have them around and do extra work to compensate for their lack of performance and corrections that need to be made because of that type of performance. Consider whether you've misaligned the persons to the responsibilities. If not, reassign them so that their talents are better matched to what they're supposed to do and they, therefore, become more productive. Openly praise them for their increased performance. It will be incentive for the rest.

Next evaluate whether these "low-perfs" have the proper training to do what they're supposed to do. If you have the resources for some tutoring, you may want to consider doing that. If it's merely a matter of having someone go over that one rough spot in their duties with them so that they better understand it and overcome that hurdle, do that. If the issue is deeper, you have more work to do.

Second Phase: Evaluation of Potential Resources
First, start by talking with your "problem" employee. Find out who his friends are and check to find out what organizations in which he's actively involved. Ask him if he has any people in those places who are his models. Ask him to have them get in touch with you.

You might also ask him what he likes about your company. If it isn't apparent, find out what about his job excites him the most. Be careful here, with the sounds of what's happening in your workplace, he may be a bit suspicious of this particular conversation. Nevertheless, this is something you need to know. Part of recruiting good talent for helping you run your business and attract new business is marketing it to candidates -- just as you would market your products and services to potential customers.

Third Phase: Recruitment
Armed with this information and past the first phase of your new recruitment regimen. Start talking with the "problem's" like-kind colleagues who do the same type of work as your "low-perf" employees. It's in your business's, your customers', your and best interests to have the best working at their optimal potential so that your business thrives.

Business Interests
There are many things happening in our economy that demand survival by having the best out of everyone. For those who are already doing that or exceeding what they're called upon to do, reward them with praise that encourages others to be similarly oriented. Also reward them with a promotion or increase in salary where there is room. The best way to keep the best is to develop as well as promote.

As for keeping those who refuse to work at doing the best, you could start a fraternal organization so that you stay in touch. But I have the impression that with more "problems" working for you, you'll be too busy to stay in touch with those who do not want to be a "problem" in that way.

In closing, the only thing I can think of to drive home my point as strongly as I possibly can is that to keep the "low-perfs" and get rid of the "problem" is the same as endorsing the conditions that led to the mid-1980s history maker.

Remember the Challenger

Originally published October 16, 2001