Many years ago a business owner asked me for advice on firing his one and only employee. They were good friends and the business owner didn’t want to talk to his friend about performance problems. He thought it would be easier if I came in and did the firing for him.
Later, when I moved to Walla Walla, the request that came my way most often was to help a business owner terminate a long-time employee. I did not want to become known as the terminator of Walla Walla Valley, so I offered instead to help several business owners resolve performance problems rather than end someone’s employment.
None of the business owners had more than 10 employees. They all worked within talking range of their employees, yet none of them had made any real effort to talk to their staffs about job performance. They just didn’t think a small business needed to have any of the formal policies or management systems that are common in a larger business, and they didn’t make time to do basic performance management.
Based on my experience, a little investment of time and energy can prevent the need to fire an employee, and the business runs better when employees are well-managed.
Here’s management basics in a nutshell:
What’s my job?
Performance management starts with agreeing on some basic job details: what the employee is expected to do and accomplish daily and over the course of the year; how work is coordinated with other employees; who is responsible for what; and what kinds of decisions the employee can make independently.
If you do this, and keep track of changes in work loads or shifts in responsibility, then tasks should not fall through the cracks and there should be little if any finger-pointing when things go wrong.
What is expected of me?
What do I have to accomplish? What should my work result look like? If you make it Mary’s job to keep the storage room clean and organized, you need to describe exactly what that means. How do you define clean? Does organize mean that everything is in files or cabinets? Can things be stacked in boxes and labeled?
Every employee and supervisor should be able to describe the expected work result in the same way.
How am I supposed to behave?
Do you want employees to take the time to explain things to customers? How important is helping a co-worker? Should an employee use her judgment and solve problems or should she bring every problem to you? Employees need clear expectations of how to behave.
What skills need improving?
Employees want to be confident in their skills and know that someone will help when there is a problem. So sit down with each employee and talk through strengths and weaknesses and agree on what skills or knowledge the employee needs to work on.
The best example of good performance management is professional sports. Every player knows exactly what his job is, how his performance will be measured, where his performance stands throughout the year, and that coaches will work with him to improve his performance. That’s performance management.
Employees should know how they are performing, either by keeping track of their work results themselves or by regular chats with the boss. Problems should never be a surprise to the employee or the boss.
Now, I recognize that the detail available on individual performance in sports makes it easy to monitor each player’s performance and most businesses can’t do anything like that. But I know that every job can have objective performance goals and individual performance can be tracked.
Without basic management practices in place, even a business with a handful of empoyees will have one ore two slugs on the payroll who take advantage of the lax expectations. Meanwhile, conscientious employees will grow frustrated by and resent the slackers. Then things will fall through the cracks, work quality will be inconsistent, costs will become harder to control and customer complaints will grow.
And the day will come when the boss wants to fire someone.
Virginia Detweiler, based in Walla Walla, provides human resource services and management training to businesses in southeastern Washington with her consulting firm HR Partner on Call. Her columns are written as a service to employers and employees and rely on reader questions and comments for topical material. Contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at 509-529-1910. Because of job and employer sensitivities, care is taken to protect identities.