From the archive Five mistakes: Incompetent employees are the business’ fault

Five common mistakes are made by small businesses.
Five common mistakes are made by small businesses.

I think this is always good to revisit.
I am helping with a situation that is not all that uncommon. I am sure this has happened to you as well. A manager wants to let someone go. Naturally, there is no documentation. So I ask the question “Why?” “Because he is incompetent, he just can’t do the job.” I sigh and begin my line of questioning.

The questions

Q1: “Have you told the employee you were unhappy with his work?”
Ans. “Yes, we have met with him three times over the last year.”
Q2: “This has been going on for a year? At what point did you recognize he was unable to do the job?”
Ans.: “Pretty much right away. That is why we talked to him.”
Q3: “Did you document this conversation?”
Ans.: “No”
Q4: “What did you do to correct the problem?”
Ans.: “I gave him less work to do.”
Q5 “Did that work? Did he improve?”
Ans. “No he did not. That is why I talked to him again about 3 months later.”
Q6: “Did you document that conversation?”
Ans.: “No. But I did tell him he needed to improve.”
Q7: “Did you give him any guidance on what that should look like? Set any goals? Create any time frames?”
Ans. “No”
Q8: “So after that time did he improve?”
Ans.: “No. That is why I had a third conversation.”
Q9: “I am going to assume since you want to terminate him that there has not been any improvement?”
Ans.: “There has not been any at all, even though I keep making the job easier. He just doesn’t have the knowledge to do this work and to manage people.”
Q10: “Why did you hire him in the first place?”
Ans.: “Well at the time I thought he could do the job because he had some experience in the field.”

What mistakes were made?

What were the HR mistakes that were made in this scenario? There were several.

Mistake #1

They hired the wrong guy to begin with. They apparently didn’t interview thoroughly enough to determine if this guy had the skill set they needed.  They probably did not have a good job description. I can assure you they did not do behavioral interviewing and the candidate told them everything they wanted to hear.

Mistake #2

They did not sit him down initially and tell him what was expected and then set goals.

Mistake #3

When he started to go astray they did not really sit down with him and tell him where he was going wrong, how he was not on goal, and here is what needs to be done. And they did NOT DOCUMENT this event.

Mistake #4

Rather than correct bad performance and behavior, they reduced the work responsibilities “hoping” he would improve. Of course they did not give him any guidance on what that improvement should look like.

Mistake #5

They let this poor behavior and performance go on for almost a complete year.

All too common

Unfortunately, this story is all too common in small business. The situation would have been exacerbated if this person had been in some protected category. The solution to this dilemma consists of four steps

  1. Hire carefully. Know what you are getting.
  2. Correct poor performance as soon as it shows up and DOCUMENT it.
  3. Allow for improvement, with guidance.
  4. Terminate sooner rather than later. No one gains by holding on to a bad employee.

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