Salvage Operations


“Home run hitters strike out a lot.”
Reggie Jackson

“The five steps in teaching an employee new skills are preparation, explanation, showing, observation and supervision.”

Bruce Barton

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Recently I ran across this story:

Many years ago, at what was then Standard Oil Company, an executive’s mistake cost the firm more than two million dollars.  On the day the news leaked, the firm’s employees feared the wrath of the powerful head of the company—John D. Rockefeller—and found various ways to avoid him.  One partner, however, kept his previously scheduled appointment.  When he walked into the president’s office, he saw Rockefeller writing on a pad of paper.

“Oh, it’s you, Bedford,” Rockefeller said calmly.  “I suppose you’ve heard about our loss?”  The partner said that he had.  “I’ve been thinking it over,” Rockefeller said, “and before I ask the man to discuss the matter, I’ve been making some notes.”  Across the top of the page was written, “Points in favor of Mr. ________.”  There followed a long list of the man’s virtues, including a description of how the executive had helped the firm make the right decision on three separate occasions.  Since the earnings from these decisions had added up to many times the cost of the recent error, Rockefeller told Bedford that he had decided to seize the opportunity to encourage the executive instead of censure him.

I cannot confirm or deny the story’s authenticity but I think it is a good parable for leaders and managers.  Employees make mistakes.  They do things wrong.  It can sometimes be costly.  However, does it always need to result in showing them the door?  It’s important to weigh all the evidence before making a decision. 

Should You Close the Book Because of One Bad Chapter?

If you look at the list of the top ten quarterbacks who have thrown the most interceptions, the list includes Fran Tarkenton, Dan Marino, Johnny Unitas and Brett Farve.  Top ten career strikeout leaders include Reggie Jackson, Alex Rodriguez, Jose Canseco and Willie Stargell.  Obviously, the records of each of these athletes show they produced more positive than negative results.  However, they had their low periods and miscues during their careers along the way.

Employees have their slumps as well.  Like professional athletes, they may also make poor decisions that can affect their company and career.  As you evaluate their performance and choices, be sure to take into consideration the contributions they have made and factor them into decisions about their future.  Not every employee is a star but the utility players merit the same consideration for what they have brought to the team as much as everyone else. 

It is also valuable to sit back and evaluate whether the employee is performing poorly because of lack of capability or lack of support.  The former may indicate they cannot do the job and/or are in the wrong position.  It may also call into question your process of choosing candidates to fill positions.  The latter may indicate they did not receive clear expectations, training and support to perform their duties.  This often happens with newly minted managers.  On Friday, they receive a promotion because of their strong performance on the shop floor.  On Monday, they are managing the shop floor.  Same individual, same skill set, different expectations.  Not all managers find their way on their own.  They need training and mentoring to mature and gain the skills and confidence to lead.  Once again, it’s also important to evaluate how you choose folks to promote from within.

Consider the Whole Picture

Managing employees’ performance is an important process.  It begins the day they join your team (or move into a more responsible position).  New employees (and those promoted) should receive orientation and training to give them a good foundation to perform their new duties.  A clear job description outlining duties and expectations sets the tone for holding them accountable for their performance.  Ongoing feedback and recognition keeps them informed about how you feel they are performing their duties.  Performance management should occur daily not just every six or twelve months.  If some or none of the above don’t happen, when an employee is under scrutiny for poor work it can cause some question as to whether it’s related to their capabilities and work ethic, the support and management they received in their position or all of the above.

In the end, the decision whether an employee remains or leaves your organization is yours.  From time to time, you will need to let go an employee because of something they have done or because they don’t have the skills you need them to have at the time.  Even if they are capable, you may not have the time for them to get up to speed.  Sometimes, you just need to make a decision.

When deciding the fate of an employee, remember to take into consideration all the factors that may have brought you to the point of needing to decide on their continued employment.  Determine whether the employee has had everything they needed to perform their job to your expectations, while weighing their contributions in comparison to their transgressions.  Regardless of your final decision, you’ll have been objective.  See which way it tips the scales in deciding to salvage or separate.

Here to serve,

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John Duba

Next month:  Sunk Costs Fallacy

 

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