Some of my best employees were nearly fired along the way. It took a lot of work and several steps of formal discipline to get through the things that were holding them back, but now they're part of the backbone of our operation.
Some organizations don't put that much effort into people - they think it's a waste. But I've always thought that most employee dysfunction is in part a leadership breakdown. For that reason, I feel like a failure whenever I fire someone, or they quit. And I feel a responsibility to make things work out.
Most of the time when employees behave badly it's related to one of the following:
- A mismatch between my expectations and the demands of their lives. For example, it may be hard to get kids to day care and still make a 6:30 shift start. When I understand the cause of their tardiness, I can either change my expectation or help them find a solution.
- A mismatch between my expectations and their skills. Shame on me for not figuring it out during the hiring phase. Now I need to train, or maybe redefine their role.
- Poor choices they're making in their private lives. That's when I go to "tough love," and hold them to expectations; when people are drinking too much or going through a divorce, they need some fixed structure in their lives. And they need to know that their job depends on them not letting those problems spin them out of control.
- Dysfunction in the relationship between employee and supervisor. Touchy-feely employees may be intimidated by an all-business boss. Focused, get-er-done types might lose respect for a leader who spends time relationship-building. Often getting both in the room helps reveal how each is perceived by the other. If it's you, you need to listen a little more.
- Low motivation. Leaders motivate by helping employees see the value of their work, and by appreciating the value of the employee. They also "motivate" in the negative sense through accountability. Any true leader can get a team member to stop screwing off.
Where employee behavior is related to dishonesty or bad intentions, firing is the answer. But in most cases, there's something the leader could do. Often, once you get through those growing pains, you end up with a solid, loyal team member.