Even as you read the title of this blog, did someone come to mind?  Is it time to decide about the person “on the bubble?”

Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, was asked at the end of his remarkable career, “What would you have done differently.”  He responded, “I should have moved faster.  There were times I had already made the decision and then took too long to act.”  This is interesting coming from a guy who is known for his decisive action.  The GE culture is to be number one or number two in every market they participate in…or they get out of that market.  People produce or they go.  Yet, even Jack wished he had moved faster.

You are responsible for two things. You are the leader.  As such, you have two responsibilities that you can never delegate:

  1. You are responsible for the direction of the company.  Where are you going and why?   It’s your job to decide.
  2. You are responsible for the financial condition of the company, for keeping the company alive and well.

I work with lots of clients who are struggling to get profitable.  100% of the time, I recommend a selling price increase.  It is rarely possible to “cut” your way to profitability.  Playing “offense” is increasing Sales:  good sales at the right price.   “Defense” is managing expenses:  making sure that you are spending the right amount on the right people, materials and services.  In business, you have to play both “offense” and “defense.”  People are your number one expense.  Are you willing to commit time, money and energy to people who are not willing to pick up the pace?

Think about what you want and why you are in business.  Update your Biz Plan.  Update your Budget.  Refine your Organizational Chart.  Then – deep breath – consider your team.  Who should stay?  Who should go?  Who is on the “bubble?”  Should you adopt a faster approach to business, your team needs to get on board.

Some team members may love it.  “Let’s go!  It’s about time to kick things into gear around here.” 

Some may be more cautious, afraid, perhaps, of letting you down or making a mistake.  Visit with each team member…collectively, individually…and let them know it is OK to think and act.

Do you have an Operations Manual?  If so, dust it off.  If not, commit to building one.  You can’t put everything in the manual.  Let them know that there will be times that they have to make a call.  Also let them know that if it is in the manual, you expect them to use the written procedure.

The “Fall On Your Sword” speech…

“I’ve been thinking about what we do here.  And, why we do it.  I’ve been working on my Biz Plan and our goals for 2012, and 2013.  Let me share where we’ve been…where we are now…and where I see us going in the future.  It’s about more than just plumbing for me. 

“I also realize that I have been negligent in upholding what is important to me.  In our Operations Manual, we have laid out the basics.  Systems and procedures for how we do things here.   We can improve our systems and I encourage your feedback and input.  As we improve the basic systems, we can update and add to the manual.  There may be times that you need to make a call.  If it’s not in the manual, make the call.  If it is in the manual, I am going to hold you accountable for that procedure, for that behavior.  We have the opportunity to create something really special together with this business.”

Before too much more of 2012 slips through the hourglass, consider…

Who should stay and who should go? 

The ones who should stay are the willing ones.  The ones who want to help you build something special and are willing to play the game straight.  Let those team members know how much you appreciate them.  Catch them doing the right things and acknowledge it.

What about the ones on the “bubble”…

There may be team members who are on the “bubble” because they have not yet demonstrated that they can do their job successfully.  Consider these words for getting someone on track.  Let’s use a Service Tech for example…

“According to the Organizational Chart, you have assumed the responsibilities of Service Tech.  That means you are required to meet minimum standards of Sales and Production.  According to the Scoreboard, you are not hitting goal.  So, here’s the deal.  For the next 60 days I am going to give you all the help, support and training I have.  I’ll ride along with you and role play challenging situations.  We’ll do what we can to improve your technical skills, Sales skills and communication skills.  Are you willing to do whatever you can to learn and do what you need to do to be successful in your position?  Because at the end of 60 days, we are going to meet again.  If you are winning in this position, great!  If not, we will both know that we have done all we can.  If this position is not a good fit, you can move on to another position or another company.  Fair enough?”

Note that simple systems allow you to be objective, not subjective, in this conversation.  Aim for measurable standards of performance…and keep score.  Track and train.  Then, this person has every hope of improving and reaching acceptable performance levels.  If he is willing AND he has the basic capacity, he can win.  There is nothing more satisfying then to help someone develop higher levels of performance.  And, if he is not willing or able, then he needs to go.

There are others who may be testing the fence.  Here are some words for the person who, for instance, has made a habit out of showing up late for work…

“I have looked the other way when you arrive late.  It is important to me that you show up on time…and it is important that we deliver on our promise to be on time to our customers’ homes.  So, this is your verbal warning.  I am letting you know that I am drawing the line in the sand.  If you want to keep this job, don’t cross it.  You will be written up…and ultimately let go if you continue to be late for work.  Understood?” 

Make sure you have a Corrective Action process in the manual.  Basically, it should state…

If you do not comply with a procedure listed in the manual, we have a Corrective Action process.  The intention is to help you get back on track. 

  • First offense, verbal warning. 
  • Second offense, written warning.
  • Third offense, suspension of employment.
  • Fourth offense, termination of employment. 

Make sure everyone on your team understands and signs off on having read this process. Clean up the housekeeping.  Start imposing the discipline that allows you to focus on your vision.  Quit wasting time on fence testing.

Some team members just need to go.  Now.

As I say that, does a face come into your mind’s view?  You know, don’t you, that it is time to let him (or her) go?

Does my advice seem hard-hearted?  I believe that everyone has the right to win.  If someone on your team is not winning, it’s your job to do everything in your power to help him be successful.  And if he is not a good fit for your job, let him go.  It is not OK to have someone on your team who everyone else knows is a loser.  That person becomes a ghost.  He isn’t included in conversations.  There is a lot of eye-rolling when his name is mentioned.  That is just not right.  You may be motivated by wanting to do the right thing,   However, continuing to hold the wrong person in a position can cause the financial failure of your company.  Even worse, you are complicate in keeping a good person down.  What if they left your company and went on to win elsewhere?  Wouldn’t that be great?

I would be remiss if I didn’t encourage you to review your discipline and employment termination strategy with your labor lawyer.  Be fair.  Engage your policies without prejudice.  Hold your team…and yourself accountable.

Your small business is no small thing.  This year, crank it up.  Finish strong with 2012…and quantum leap in 2013!