I have an employee who has never performed well. I’ve tried everything I can think of to get his performance to improve, but nothing ever changes. I’ve thought about firing him, but I don’t think I can find anyone to replace him, and I don’t want to run short on labor. Any advice? — K.R., Iowa
This is an issue every business owner deals with, whether a farmer or not — and whether the business is in a rural area or a big city.
Often, I’ve seen business owners — including farmers — start accommodating an underperforming employee out of fear of losing labor. They begin to justify the employee’s negative behaviors, make excuses for the person and generally ask less out of that employee.
This can create bitterness and frustration in the rest of your team. They know they’re the ones that must pick up the slack. This potentially destructive situation could lead to losing some of your best employees.
The challenge for the leader is to first have a crucial conversation with the underperforming employee. In that conversation, you need to communicate: “Here’s what I’m expecting, and this is what I’m experiencing. What are you going to do to fill that gap?”
This puts responsibility squarely on the employee, where it belongs.
Once you’ve made clear your expectations, and the employee knows what the outcome will be if they’re not met, then one of three things will likely occur.
- The first possibility is the employee steps up and fills in the gap because he understands the responsibilities in a new way.
- The second is the employee starts looking for a different job, realizing his job is at risk.
- And the final possibility is that you’ve set up the opportunity to fire the employee if he makes the choice to not improve.
The bigger issue isn’t this employee’s performance — it’s the lack of having a bench that can be drawn on for “replacement players” and not recognizing that the rest of the team will step up and fill in the gaps once the underperforming employee is gone. Plus, attitudes and overall productivity will likely improve.
Work to increase your focus on having replacement players recruited and ready to go, so you won’t ever have to feel stuck with an underperformer.
Frye is president and CEO of Water Street Solutions. Send your questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org