If you were to go to the doctor with a little pain in your stomach you would hope that the doctor diagnoses the problem before prescribing a solution. If the doctor didn’t examine you and instead said, “Here take these blue pills, they worked for the last guy,” you would be looking for a new doctor.
The same is true of fixing a problem-employee situation. You cannot look at this complex situation without going through a diagnostic process, because if you don’t know what’s causing the problem you won’t be able to prescribe a solution. In this post and the two following, we are going to walk through three things that could be going wrong for a problem employee and what to do about them.
Checking an Employee’s Strengths
Now that we have a list of goals that aren’t being met (see Step 1) we can start the diagnostic process by looking at an employee’s strengths. Strengths are the innate talents that employees bring to their job. They are reflections of the way the employee filters the world. They cannot be taught, and they cannot be improved. They simply need to be there when you hire.
For example, I was once a problem employee. I had a job in sales and to succeed I needed to make 30-40 cold calls a day. Now, I hate making cold calls. I hate it with a passion that goes beyond rational. I am simply not wired for it. So, instead of making 30-40 cold calls a day, I would make 8. There was no way I was going to succeed at that job.
Conversely, I naturally enjoy teaching. I love nothing better than to figure out a new way to explain a concept. I’ll happily spend time thinking about the concept and finding the perfect analogy to explain it. I also love public speaking. When I watch other public speakers, I’m not only focused on what they are saying, but how they are saying it. I’m looking for ways to improve. I have strengths in teaching and presenting, but not in cold calling.
So your first diagnostic step is to figure out whether your employee has the basic makeup to do the job. As Jim Rohn says, “Don’t send your ducks to eagle school.” See if your employee spends time thinking about the task at hand. Does your employee think about new ways to do the job, or would the person just as soon be doing something else? If your problem employee is not spending time achieving tangible goals, where is the time going? Is the person doing something else that they find to be more fun?
If you come to the conclusion that your employee doesn’t have the basic strengths necessary to do the job, then you don’t need to do any more diagnosing, because there is nothing you can do to improve the situation.
I think there is nothing worse than finding out that an employee doesn’t have the basic wiring necessary to succeed at a job. First, I probably hired the person, and so I screwed up in the hiring, and second, there is very little I can do to fix the situation. There are two options:
Let the person go and find someone new.
Redefine the person’s role so that success is possible.
Both solutions will make your life a lot easier. In my personal example, I moved from a role where I made phone calls to a role where I provided technical support and training in the sales process. I flourished in the new role, and everyone was happy that the angst of the old situation had gone away. With luck, you’ll be able to redefine the role of your employee.
The worst thing you can try to do in this situation is coach your way out of it. If the person simply doesn’t have the make-up for the job, you will have to work very hard to get the person up to being mediocre, and you’ll find that the person is constantly slipping back. Even worse, very few of us are happy doing a job that isn’t suited for us, so you are not providing a service when you keep an employee in a bad job. It’s better to let the person move on to new things.
It isn’t easy to fix a strengths problem, but the faster you fix it, the faster you will be able to focus on your high performing team members