Company Doctor: Companies need not carry dead weight

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:33 pm

Most companies have one or more problem employees who have lingered for many years and have survived many supervisors. Why are they still there if they are not productive, supportive team players?
The answer: no one has been able to pull the trigger to separate the employee from the company. Call it fear, call it being conflict adverse, but recognize the fact that someone needs to do it. The answer usually lies in the fact that the company does not have a performance appraisal process, one that is properly supported by documentation and is performed on a timely basis by trained supervisors.
Over recent years, as a result of the slowed economy, managers have concentrated their efforts on improving productivity through the adoption of lean manufacturing techniques, machinery upgrades and the acquisition of technology.
They have invested in many assets, but they often have ignored the human capital that makes up their organizations. The key to unlocking the potential of this asset is the enhancement of supervisory skills. Employees cannot maximize their capacity for productivity unless we demonstrate and train them in the skills needed to be productive. Unless we train and evaluate, we cannot begin to identify the employees who lack the skills needed to achieve the targeted productivity levels.
These employees should be coached, evaluated and retrained. If that does not assist them in reaching the agreed upon productivity goals, we need to separate them from the company.
We must accept the fact that not all employees will be able to reach the agreed upon goals. We may need to separate them from the organization after they have had sufficient time to improve their skills. In many cases, we accept the lower levels of productivity and find excuses for not taking the necessary action.
We are concerned about morale or the effect the termination would have on the other employees. These are all real concerns, but I doubt if any of your employees are not aware that this employee is a low producer, a laggard or a goof-off. The fact that you don’t act actually hurts morale more than taking the necessary action. Your employees will begin to see that you will accept poor performance.
By separating the employee who is not performing, you are demonstrating to the balance of the workforce that you will not tolerate the poor behaviors exhibited by that employee.
Many times, managers and supervisors will rationalize that they cannot afford to let the problem employee go he or she will be difficult to replace. I pose this question to those managers, "What would you do if they quit?" You would replace them anyway. If that is true, then why not pull the trigger and terminate their employment with the company?
Another rationalization is that we don’t have sufficient documentation of their performance and human resources will not let us terminate the employee. If the documentation is insufficient, then the employee’s supervisor has been negligent in assembling the necessary performance data to support a decision to terminate.
This documentation should be accumulated over time, reviewed with the employee and an improvement plan should be developed and implemented. If even with all of this assistance the necessary improvement has not taken place, then you should be able to document the need to terminate the employee.
The evaluations need to be fair and unbiased and consistent among the supervisors. Too many times, supervisors are afraid to rate an employee as ‘needs improvement’ because it will necessitate a corrective interview. Either the supervisor is conflict-adverse or does not have the tools to deal with a defensive or aggressive employee.
It is the responsibility of human resources departments to provide these tools to supervisors. If you don’t have a human resources department, consider starting one or seek the advice of a professional.
Your company needs to empower its supervisors and hold them accountable for the productivity in their departments. The company has an obligation to properly train every supervisor in the critical skills required to deliver the expected levels of productivity.
Finally, an organization should engage the services of an attorney who specializes in employment law. The attorney can properly evaluate the company’s employee handbook, job descriptions and performance appraisal process to ensure that the company is on firm legal ground if it needs to terminate the problem employee.
The proactive investment in these services will yield large dividends when the need arises to let someone go.
An organization must invest the time and money needed to provide management with all the tools necessary to motivate, educate and lead their employees. This investment will yield not only increased productivity, but also higher levels of morale and a reduced level of employee turnover.
Cary Silverstein is the president and chief executive officer of Fox Point-based Strategic Management Associates LLC. He heads a group of seven consultants that provide services in strategic planning, marketing, market research, negotiations and conflict resolution program development. Silverstein also teaches graduate level courses at Keller Graduate School in Milwaukee and Waukesha. He can be reached at (414) 352-5140 or at
February 4, 2005, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI
(c) 2005 Strategic Management Associates, LLC 2

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Dr. Daniel A. Schroeder is President/CEO of Organization Development Consultants, Inc. (ODC). ODC serves regional and national clients from its offices in suburban Milwaukee. Additionally, he teaches in the Organizational Behavior and Leadership (bachelor’s) and Organization Development (master’s) programs at Edgewood College (Madison, WI), programs that he founded and for which he served as Program Director.

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