firing poor performers

Awhile back I received an email from a reader about how to let an employee go who is not performing adequately. It surprised me because I don’t know that I’ve ever actually written on the topic specifically before. I want to talk about some of the dos and don’ts, but first, a story.

The Time Thief

A few years ago a manager called me to see if I could look into an employee’s time card. The employee was consistently putting forty hours of work on his timesheet, but he was arriving late, leaving early, and taking long lunches on a regular basis.

So I reached out to the company managing the security access point to get the gate logs for this person. Mind you, this is just getting me the time that he swipes into and out of the gate outside the building, not the specific time he’s at his computer and actually productive.

A quick dump into Excel and a few calculations later… My jaw dropped.

The records showed that this person had worked six to six and a half hours per day on average for as far back as the gate checkin log showed (several months). I was dumbfounded that it took this long for the attendance to be discovered by the managers on site. Just in that one spreadsheet alone the employee had been paid for nearly 200 hours of work he never actually performed.

I quickly launched my investigation, talking with his supervisor and our site manager, gathering all of our time data to make sure everything was correct. You see, as a federal contractor, we were billing the government for all of the time the person supposedly worked. If it could have been proven that we were knowingly allowing this sort of behavior to continue, half of the company’s employees could have lost their jobs overnight–not to mention the fines and other penalties levied by the auditors.

So, after a few days to gather everything, I got the employee’s supervisor and the site lead to sit down with me on the phone from six hours away. The employee came in and I told him what I had found and asked if he had any questions. His only response was, “Can I file for unemployment?”

Then the real story began. The employee was quickly approved for their unemployment claim and started receiving checks shortly after being terminated. I spent the next four months fighting that unemployment claim, trying to get the investigator to understand that this wasn’t as simple as poor attendance or a “one strike and you’re out” policy–the employee put the entire company at stake with his behavior.

A final written appeal won the case for the company (felt like a personal victory for me as well) and the employee had to pay all of their unemployment compensation back to the state for lying about their reason for termination. What seemed like a slam dunk investigation and termination finally came to a close and the organization and I could move on to more meaningful activities.

Terminating Unproductive Employees

In some ways, these can be the “easiest” terminations to make. I absolutely hate having to drop employees who are productive, good people. But when someone has had chances, warnings, and other opportunities to make good on their end of the deal and have failed (willingly or not), I have to say that it’s easier to handle the process.

I’ve always thought of it this way: the employee chooses the path–I just help them walk down it. 

The most basic principles that have helped me through all of the terminations I’ve carried out are these: be courteous and respectful. If you have already built trust and rapport with the employee, it will help in this conversation. If not, there might not be much you can do to build it at this point. If you were sitting on the other side of the table, how would you want to be treated? It sounds trite, but it’s indubitably true.

The implication of the original question that got me thinking about this topic was that the person didn’t want to terminate the employee and wanted to give them “just one more chance” after already failing numerous times. This is dangerous and can set up a painful precedent for the organization. It can also damage leader credibility, so it’s important to make the call, take action, and move on.

What advice do you have for terminating employees?

 

Last week I took a vacation with my family to enjoy the lovely beaches of south Alabama. I was able to squeeze in a little reading, and here are the fruits of that labor. Today we have book review on Leadership in the Crucible of Work: Discovering the Interior Life of an Authentic Leader by Sandy Shugart, PhD (Amazon).

leadership crucible work sandy shugartThe book was interesting, and I read it like I mentioned in my previous post on reading for leaders. Here are a few insights from the book:

  • Sometimes followers are as important as the leaders. The author talks about the importance of having a clear, strong leader in musical ensembles–an example I’ve never considered previously. Leaders jumping up to “take the reins” in those situations would hamper performance, not improve it.
  • I think I wrote about this another time, but it bears repeating: leaders should ask themselves “Am I seeking genuine commitment from my associates, or deep down do I only want compliance?” There is a major difference in the two, and it would do us all well to think about the people we lead. How can we best garner commitment from them without forcing them into a mindset where they must comply blindly?
  • Bouncing off the previous comment, if you truly want commitment, are you willing to give it yourself? Like so many things (respect, attention, value) when you want something, you have to offer it to others before it can be returned to you.
  • Do you truly believe in the talent of those you lead? Do you believe they are great at what they do? Because if you spend all of your time thinking, “I could do that job better than them if I had time,” then you’ll never have a great team. And if they truly are not that great, consider replacing them. It’s not worth it to walk around all the time second guessing people.
  • This quote:

The most dangerous thing about communication is the illusion it occurred.

  • A note on the price of experience: “We run to the familiar. This is the price of expertise, the loss of the innocence of a beginner for whom nothing is familiar and so all choices are still possible.
  • And finally, a note on collaboration. We hear the word often and are expected to just “know” what it means. But it doesn’t have the same definition in the mind of each person (hint: for some it looks like an opportunity for micromanagement under the veil of collaborative working). The author’s comment on it made me stop and consider my own method of defining what collaboration looks like: collaboration enlarges leaders and those being led; micromanagement diminishes both.

So, if you’re looking for a book on leadership with some good, thought-provoking takeaways, you might consider checking out Leadership in the Crucible of Work: Discovering the Interior Life of an Authentic Leader by Sandy Shugart, PhD (Amazon link).

debbie mcgee IHRLast year I met a subject matter expert on international HR issues through my local SHRM chapter. A few months later, when I was looking at some HR challenges affecting our expatriate employees, I ran across her again. When I spoke at ALSHRM in May, she was presenting across the hallway on international human resources best practices. In other words, she knows what she’s doing! So I wanted to take a moment to chat with her and learn more about the special niche she fills.

Ben: So, let’s establish your credibility. Tell me about your background. 

Debbie: I have been working with international employee issues for more than two decades. 13 years in international individual taxation and another 12 years in International Human Resources/Global mobility. I have worked as a Senior Manager with Big 4 Accounting Firms, as well as run corporate Global IHR departments for multinational corporations with more than 2,000 expatriates.

In addition, I have managed more than 60 country combinations, including Asia to Europe, Europe to the Americas and  Americas to Asia/Europe. That means travel is a big part of my work: I’ve visited over 30 countries and even lived in Europe for 6 years.

As far as credentials, I am a CPA as well as GPHR, so I think with both sides of my brain and easily switch the conversation from talent development to accounting/taxation for that same talent. My current role is President and CEO of PZI International Consulting, Inc, where I helps clients effectively and legally expand their talent into global marketplaces.

Ben: How did you end up working in an international HR role?  

Debbie: After managing national accounts for the accounting firms and designing programs/policies for their international HR departments, it was a natural progression to move to the corporate side.  I wanted to make a bigger impact with one company and felt by going in and designing the program as a best practice Center of Excellence from the ground up, I could impact not only the corporate culture, but also have an impact on individual employees career as well as quality of life.

My first role as a Global Mobility Manager was with an accounting client.  They wanted to grow the program internally and focus on more than the tax/payroll piece of the IHR program.  I was brought in to design and run that function.

Ben: What was your favorite part of working globally within HR?

Debbie: I like helping people and knowing that I made a difference in someone’s life.  As a CPA, I felt I seldom gave good news to a client, but as a Corporate Head of IHR, I could directly affect an employee’s quality of life while they were working abroad for the company.  Often employees would call me on their last day at the company to thank me for helping them and their families during a difficult situation while they were based abroad for the company.

My main goal was to make the family unit a successful team while they were abroad.  They were the face of the company, whether in the local markets, the local schools or the foreign workplace.  If they were challenged, happy to be there and excited about what they were doing, that would reflect well on the corporation as well.

Ben: What was the most challenging part of international HR work?

Debbie: Human Resources are often a last minute thought for many business units.  They are so entangled in getting the business, closing the sale, that the human capital piece of it is seldom thought through.  I worked diligently at changing the corporate culture around what was required to expand the company into international markets.  I spent a lot of time training the business units, the other functional areas, rather than waiting for them to come to me, I went to them.

I think being proactive and making people aware of why they need to talk with you lets you be an equal stakeholder in the business development, rather than a stumbling block for the business units.

International HR/Global Mobility is still not a well understood area within organizations.  It isn’t until something goes wrong, someone is in jail, someone is turned away at a border, that many companies begin to look at this function and realize the complexity of it and why they need to have people running it that know all the questions to ask and where to find the answers.

Ben: If you could go back and offer some advice to yourself as you were getting started in this type of role, what would you say?

Debbie: No one knows everything.  Being a subject matter expert is a good thing, but you have to understand the business and the business needs.  Otherwise just because you may know the answer, doesn’t mean the business wants to hear it.  Most important part of being a stakeholder in a business is to :: Ask, Listen, Solve.  In that order.  Don’t assume you know the answer before you ask the question.

Ben: Any closing comments, wit or wisdom?

Debbie: Companies should grow their networks, read up on developing trends in the IHR industry. “the authorities haven’t caught us yet” is no way to do business internationally.  Investing in your international HR group is as important as investing in your 401k plan or your product development. Every company today should be looking at how they can expand into international markets, the business is definitely out there.  Expanding into these markets means expanding your human assets into those markets.  Make sure you are as diligent with your human assets as you are with your product assets.

Ben: Thanks for your time, Debbie! This has been incredibly insightful.

—————-

I hope you enjoyed this interview exploring some of the ideas around international HR practices with Debbie McGee. You can find her at her website or on LinkedIn.

What are your thoughts about international HR? Is it harder than domestic HR? How did some of these comments influence your opinion? 

This is another installment in our “Day in the Life” series, this time focusing on the HR directors out there. In case you missed one of the previous pieces, here is the full list:

Read on below to learn about what those HRD’s do all day, including some funny comments, in-depth descriptions, and other helpful details.

day in the life hr professional

The Life of an HR Director

Taheti

  • Company/industry: Non profit mental health and autism service provider
  • Years with current company: 4
  • Years in HR: 10
  • Degree/Certification: Masters in Workforce Development and SPHR
  • Average day: Assisting mangers with coaching their employees with disciplinary issues developing leadership training for front line supervisor currently working on employment engagement survey
  • HR wit/wisdom: They call me HR ninja :-)
    Happy cows make better milk meaning happy employees perform better!

Tici

  • Company/industry: Non-Profit Residential Treatment Center for at-risk children and youth
  • Years with current company: 6 months
  • Years in HR: 6.5 years plus pastor of 6 churches
  • Degree/Certification: BS in PSY, Master of Divinity, Doctor of Ministry
  • Average day: I spend half my day trying to attract and retain great employees at non-profit pay. I do the full range of HR from orientation to termination, compensation and benefits, and everything between. Bench-marking, crisis response planning, organizational development, training, statistical reports, disciplinary procedures, workers comp., evaluation, labor legislation, agency licensing and accreditation, developing and updating policies and procedures, day-to-day HR stuff like paying insurance bills, and educating myself, I do a bit of everything HR. My assistant is also the receptionist which is a challenge!

Crystal

  • Company/industry: RLB LLP
  • Years with current company: 8
  • Years in HR: 12
  • Degree/Certification: CHRP, CHRL
  • Average day: “I am laughing at “”average”” :) I meet with staff, work on implementing new and innovative people programs, meet with the executive, recruit, consult for clients, train and motivate my team, learn, and any thing else that needs to be done in a day. plunge a toilet? sure!”
  • HR wit/wisdom: Take risks, be authentic and have fun!

David

  • Company/industry: Higher Education
  • Years with current company: Four
  • Years in HR: Over 18
  • Degree/Certification: SPHR
  • Average day: I will spend my day interviewing exempt level employees, attending budget meetings, working out tow or three employee relations opportunities (these include an employee about to be terminated because they don’t show up to work, employee who believes they are under paid, and another who is having a difficult time adjusting to out culture and doesn’t know it). If I have any non-transactional time, I will work out the latest policy on “Pets in the workplace” and send it to our attorney, then complete the four performance reviews I have to complete before next week. But, I don’t have an average day…
  • HR wit/wisdom: As Steve Forbes used to say “in life, to get ahead, it’s not who you know, it’s whom you know that matters.”

Sherry

  • Company/industry: Solid Waste Management and Recycling
  • Years with current company: 2
  • Years in HR: 15
  • Degree/Certification: Bachelor’s Degree in HR Administration
  • Average day: I spend 2 hours a day recruiting (placing ads, calls, interviews). Every other HR function except payroll falls to me (benefits, culture and recognition, workers comp, DOT compliance, OSHA, time sheets, research, W2s, data entry, reports, newsletter, Chamber of Commerce, etc.). I spend 3-5 hours a day with random visits of former employees, current employees and managers and issues that come up. There are 150 employees and turnover is high so I’m working with about 400 people in a year if you include the applicants/candidates, new hires and terms.Culture and recognition is my forte.

Jen

  • Company/industry: K-12 private school plus Day Care
  • Years with current company: 10
  • Years in HR: 14
  • Degree/Certification: BS
  • Average day: There is no average day! I’m an HR/Payroll department of one with about 140 employees, so my daily agenda is to stay flexible, keep smiling, and stay organized. Some days I’m at my desk for 8 hours, other days, I’m running to “put out fires”.
  • HR wit/wisdom: Be kind to everyone, even when they aren’t being kind to you (but don’t be a push over either.) Make friends with the maintenance and kitchen crews. There’s nothing like a great spreadsheet! You never know what a day is going to bring!

Coming up soon we’ll have other HR roles and responsibilities, but I appreciate the participants for sharing! Let me know in the comments below what you think about the series.

I had the distinct pleasure of seeing my friend Steve Browne speak this morning at SHRM. His session was intended to fire up the audience, and I’d say it was a smashing success. One of his comments was powerful, and I thought it deserved to be repeated here because I talk about certification quite a bit.

If your certification is purely about getting recertification hours, having letters after your name, and trying to use that as a way to get credits, then you’re wasting your time and your organization’s time. Go ahead and leave. Or let it lapse. There’s no real value in that sort of attitude.

However, if you pursued certification as a way to make yourself better at delivering HR services for your employees, then you’re on the right track.

If you prepared for months, studied endless hours to pass an incredibly difficult exam, and sat there with sweaty palms as you waited for the pass/fail notification at the end just so you could use something you learned to make your workplace better, you did it for the right reasons.

If your certification is less about making yourself look good and more about how you can make your organization look good for candidates and employees, then you understand the true value of the certification process.

Whether you’re carrying around a PHR, SPHR, SHRM-CP, SHRM-SCP, HRBP, or some other type of credential, remember the end goal. The test is not the goal. Studying is not the objective. Using what you learn to make your organization better is.

How has your certification helped you? What additional impact did you have on your organization once you picked up those almighty letters behind your name? 

dr ben carson leadership wisdomLast week I had the chance to see Dr. Ben Carson speak at an event. For clarity, this was a faith-based event, not a political one. I have seen the movie Gifted Hands twice (highly recommended!), and I was excited to hear some of his story in his own words. I picked up four pieces of wisdom on leading people and wanted to share those insights here.

Defining Diversity

Diversity is not a unanimity of speech or thought. It’s a respect for the differences around us.

We don’t all have to believe and say the same things to be diverse. What we must do, though, is respect others. Everyone is different from you in some way, even if it’s in terms of what music they listen to, what foods they like, etc. Respect those differences and the larger ones that still can permeate workplace decisions (color, gender, etc.)

Leading Technical People

Sometimes when leading technical people you won’t understand 100% of what they do. What is important, however, is to make them realize you appreciate and support them anyway. Carson’s mother made him read books and write reports for her to critique. The kicker? She couldn’t read.

She knew the importance of reading for learning growth and knew the skill was important enough to emphasize. She would highlight the papers and ask questions to help them realize that she cared about the assignments.

Motivating Others

At one point early in his career Carson was appointed supervisor of a road cleanup crew. The problem, he said, was that the crew wasn’t interested in doing any work! They were paid by the hour with a goal of 100 bags per day, so he negotiated with the team to pick up 100 bags for eight hours of pay plus any time saved. For instance, if they picked up the 100 bags of trash in six hours, they were paid for eight hours of work and got to go home early.

He said that his crew quickly became the most productive and others couldn’t understand how his team was doing more work than the others in less time.

How to Be Successful

Mr. Carson finished his remarks with this powerful quote:

Success is using your God-given talents to elevate other people.

I firmly agree. We all have unique skills, abilities, and talents. We should look for opportunities where our greatest passion meets our greatest strength and make the world better. It wouldn’t make much sense for me to try to build homes for people–that’s not my skill set. But planning a charity race? I am all over it. What’s your talent and how can you use it to elevate others?

I learned this week that one of my former bosses nominated me for a Young Professional Award for the work I have done over the past few years, both with this site and within the community where I live. I was (and still am) humbled by that support. As far as I can tell, I’m the only HR guy in the running, and I have until July 1st to gather a few votes in the competition. Would you be willing to take 20 seconds to vote for me? Whether you’ve been reading this site for one day or six years, I would sincerely appreciate the support.

No registration is required, and you do not have to vote for anyone else in the other categories if you don’t wish to. Thanks!

Click here to vote