Avoid excuses for keeping your underperformers | Contributor

By Mike Cook
Courtesy to The Bellingham Business Journal

Last summer my son and his wife took on a major renovation project at their home in Portland.

I observed the progress of the project in Anacortes, getting weekly progress reports, photos and so forth, as events unfolded.

The project was pretty large, involving the entire second floor of their home. They even made arrangements to live elsewhere for a period of time in order for the work to get done quicker.

In all, the process was supposed to take about four months from beginning to end, so when they began in early July, all expectations were that the job would be complete by the end of October.

Well, the end of that month came and went, and soon it was January, then February, and finally around the first of March they declared everything complete. The progress reports and photos had stopped coming in early October, having been replaced by lengthy complaints about the contractor, which continued until late January when they finally dismissed him.

They made that decision when they realized the job might never be finished without drastic action. They then found someone who agreed to finish the job, and six weeks later everything was wrapped up.

This past week, my son and his daughters came to visit during the school break in Portland, and I had an opportunity to spend some time with him and get some of the details I had missed during that October-to-March window.

My first question to him: “So when did you suspect you might be in trouble with this contractor?”

His answer was one I have heard from many employers when talking about employees they held onto for far too long.

He said, “When we were supposed to move back into the house at the beginning of September, I could see the process was well behind where we had expected it to be, and we began getting a steady stream of excuses instead of results around the same time.”

You can probably anticipate my next question.

“So why did you keep him on so long?”

His response again echoed those of employers.

“Well I was hoping he could get it together and work things out. I wanted to give him a chance to make good on his promises.”

At this point I decided to press my son a bit, since I know that, as a construction architect, he runs big jobs for his employers where millions of dollars are involved. I knew he would not be this tolerant with his employer’s reputation at stake.

“So really, why were you so patient with this guy?”

My son bristled a bit then shot back, “Do you know how hard it is to find good contractors?”

So there it was, the classic reason I have heard time and again from employers when confronted about keeping underperforming employees: “Do you know how hard it is to find good people?”

So I continued with my son.

“Aren’t you really telling me that you know you made a poor choice with that contractor, and now you were questioning your own ability to make another similar decision?”

He thought about it for a moment, then admitted that he was more disappointed in himself than the contractor. He knew for a while that the contractor wasn’t going to work out, but simply had a hard time facing the mistake he had made; such a hard time that he caused his family undue hardship as they lived through the mess until the right contractor was found.

How many times, as employers, have we made this same mistake?

Are we living with our mistakes right now, rather than facing what needs to be done?

Here’s a 10 second test that I got from reading an article by James Raybould, the senior director of marketing at LinkedIn. Go through your employees, one by one, and ask yourself if you’d regret any of them departing.

Raybould says this quick test will give you varied outcomes and courses of action, as well as questions you’ll need to answer:

– If you’d find a departure devastating, are you investing enough to ensure your star is fully motivated, with a clear and compelling career path ahead?

– And if you’d find a departure desirable, are you on the road to fast improvement or do you need to move more quickly to consider alternative options?

– Are you imposing on employees you’d regret losing by keeping ones that you wouldn’t?

Take 10 seconds per employee to ask this question today.

Mike Cook is a management developer who lives in Anacortes, Wash. He publishes a weekly blog at www.heartofengagement.com.

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