From the Ask Tom mailbag:
I manage a drafting department of 12 people and have been quite successful over the past 5 or 6 years in improving the quality of our output and the morale of our team.
I have one team member with good skills but he takes forever to get anything done. In my effort over the years to make him more productive, I’ve afforded him the opportunity to become skilled at many different tasks, each time hoping that this would be the one that “clicked”. His production level, however, never improves even after the “learning curve” of any new skill is overcome.
I’m finally facing the fact that this guy will not ever make the pace we expect. Letting him go is difficult for me though, since I’ve acted all this time as his “enabler”. I probably should have realized his limitations a lot sooner and avoided the situation that I’m in now, that being, having a multi-skilled individual who ironically, is too slow.
What’s your take on this?
Some people master a skill quickly; others may complete a task only after some hard work (which takes time). Your response (training him in many skills) to the amount of time for task completion may have been misguided, making matters worse, even slowing his production time. Two critical components for every role are pace and quality. Pace and quality.
1. Determine what you need this team member to do. This should be based on what the company needs from him. What is his role? Write this down. Instead of training him on many different tasks, focus on the essentials of his deliverables. Don’t create a role around him. Determine the role and determine his capability to fill that role.
2. Baseline evaluation of the “candidate.” This is a very serious conversation. You have had conversations before, this one is different. Your prior conversations have been searching for something he might be good at. This conversation will focus on what the company needs from him in his role. This is a focusing conversation. The next conversation will be your evaluation, after one day, of his baseline performance in that role.
3. Improvement metrics. Rather than looking to train him on many different skills, the focus should be on throughput speed in the essential deliverables the company needs from the role. Examine each step in the process that speeds him up or slows him down. We don’t need him to learn a whole bunch of other skills, we simply need to get him faster at the essential skills.
4. Evaluate his long term contribution. After a period of three weeks, as a manager, you will know whether his behavior is becoming more effective or staying the same. As his manager, it will be time for you to make a judgment. It will be time for you to make a decision. Is the candidate becoming more effective in the essential role that we have for him? This is a yes or no question.
5. If the answer is yes, then you have a contributing member. If the answer is no, inform your manager that you are de-selecting this person from your team. If your manager has another role which might be suitable, turn this person over to your manager for placement. If your manager has no other role, it is time to release this person to industry.
Every part of this should be explained to the candidate. There should be no secrets. The candidate should understand the consequences of underperformance. At the same time, underperformance does not make him a bad person. It is likely that he will be relieved that he can look for a position more appropriate to his speed level, rather than live in the shadow of underperformance and constant scrutiny.