Monday, February 20, 2012

When In Doubt, Fire Promptly!

Feeling the need to supervise someone closely is a strong sign that you may have made a hiring mistake. Deal with it promptly and fairly as a matter of personal accountability to your team. Top professionals like to work with their equals and resent managers who tolerate mediocre hires.

The warning signs of a hiring mistake are familiar:

• The employee is not in demand by project managers other than his immediate supervisor.

• He takes direction/guidance poorly from colleagues.

• He does not learn from mistakes.

• The employee is very punctual arriving to and departing from work.

• He shows little curiosity, asking few questions off topic from assigned tasks.

• He follows directions blindly, without understanding the expected result.

The purpose of probationary periods and performance reviews is to allow new employees to prove their worth. Do not squander these valuable quality control steps.

• Think hard, focusing on the real issues. What important information may have been overlooked? Is this the wrong person or are they merely in the wrong position. Were expectations clear? Without standards, quality control is impossible and creating standards after the fact is patently unfair.

• Design a pragmatic coaching program including multiple participants with independent perspectives. Get input from Human Resources on realistic decision criteria and necessary documentation.

• Gather first-hand information, supplemented with input from the assessment team. Be consistent and persistent Careful listening and close inquiry when contemplating a termination takes far more time than coaching a solid performer.

• Avoid generating fear in the team. Be transparent. Openly explain what you are doing and why. Use the process to reinforce standards in a positive way.

• Make necessary decisions. Use data to inform your judgment with human resources as a quality assurance check. Keep the burden of proof on the employee. Explain your assessment and recruit allies. While the decision is yours, it must make sense to the team.

Termination is hard. Tell the truth, as you know it, with plain language and simple concepts. Acknowledge uncertainty when appropriate and expect denial. I recall a termination meeting during which an engineer expressed surprise because he had never received a performance review. When shown a series of unfavorable review forms that he and his supervisor had signed, the engineer said he did not believe they were official reviews. My response was compassionate, respectful, and honest.

Focus on your mission of building a highly motivated and productive team. After every termination or departure, revisit the hiring process for lessons learned, and improve the process accordingly.

Want to learn more about how to deal with tricky HR situations? Register for PSMJ’s upcoming A/E/C Industry Human Resources Summit. The HR Summit is a senior level HR event specifically designed to address the increasing needs and demands of senior leaders of HR, as well as other key executives who deal with the critical employee and firm issues on a daily basis. Through panel discussions and best practices presentations, you learn through examining successful real-life case studies, receive A/E/C survey results, while networking and asking your peers for their proven solutions to problems just like yours.

For more information, click here to download the program brochure or contact our Education Department at or 617-965-0055.

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