Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

When expertise becomes an enemy of quality service 11 – helping good employees with potential to become great employees 7

This is my eleventh installment to a series on expertise, and on what an employee or manager needs to bring along with it, if it is to offer real value and either to themselves or to the business they work for (see my supplemental postings section at the end of Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, postings 69 and following, for Parts 1-10.)

I began successively discussing a set of personnel policy and practice issues in Part 9, in terms of three business model approaches, which I have been presenting in realistic, if somewhat stereotypical form as pursued by three businesses:

• The Alpha Company: a mature manufacturing business working in a stable and technologically settled industry,
• The Omega Company: a more fast-paced enterprise that focuses on producing and providing the newest and greatest in a very rapidly evolving high-tech field such as consumer electronics, and
• What for purposes of this discussion is a more middle ground business: the Mesotech Corporation.

And the issues that I have been addressing in this are:

• Developing and supporting current employees so they can realize and work up to their true potential (in Part 9.)
• Hiring and how these businesses present themselves as successful places to work (in Part 10.)
• How they each decide to dismiss employees when they do that too, and certainly when non-performance or under-performance are the primary cause for taking that action.
• How they promote and advance employees who show particular value and potential in that direction.
• And of course, how they set, develop and manage employee enrichment as a part of their overall employee benefits system.

I have up to here, focused on Mesotech in these point by point discussions, and have added in discussions of the Alpha and Omega Companies for comparison. And I will continue that approach in this installment and moving forward too. And my topic for this posting is the complex issues that are raised in the third to-address bullet point as repeated above: firings and dismissals.

I begin that by explicitly clearing out and dismissing from consideration, a variety of contexts and presumtive grounds for letting employees go, that can be very important when they arise but that fall outside of the range of this discussion. To repeat the key wording from the third bullet point that indicates what I will discuss here, I wrote “… when non-performance or under-performance are the primary cause for taking that action.” So I am not considering here or discussing the issues of:

• Firing an employee for cause who has been caught stealing from the business, from a fellow employee or from a customer, who might be performing their basic work responsibilities up to acceptable levels of performance but who is being judged here for other reasons.
• And similarly, I am not discussing here, firing or dismissing with cause, an employee who has been found to harass or discriminate against others in the course of their work, and whether that means explicit violation of workplace protection laws in place, or whether that behavior creates risk or loss for the business in other ways.
• There are other grounds for dismissal with cause that I could raise here in this same vein, and I only note that they all involve employees acting intentionally and egregiously, in ways that directly bring risk and harm to their workplace and employer, to fellow employees, to customers or to others while performing their work duties and responsibilities.
• Or dismissing an employee who would otherwise be retained and kept on, due to fiscal challenges that force an employer into downsizing from among its staff. I am not discussing here, letting good people go because a business sees itself as being forced by circumstances to scale back to more of its core essentials if it is to survive as a business.

And this leads me to the core words offered above in outlining what I will discuss here: “non-performance or under-performance” and how they would be variously interpreted and understood in my three test case businesses.

I begin with Mesotech and its policies and practices.

• Mesotech strives to find and bring in the best potential new hires that it can attract. It, as basic policy and practice, strives to bring out the best from its employees so they can perform up to their full potential, creating maximum value and both for the business and for themselves. And very importantly for this line of discussion, Mesotech willingly makes a very real and significant investment in its employees, and at all levels on its table of organization from non-managerial hands-on workers on up through their senior management staff.
• So when an employee fails to thrive at the business and to perform effectively there, this raises red flags that hold significance beyond the scope of consideration of that one employee alone. Questions are asked and both with regard to that one employee, and with regard to their hiring processes, and their promotions and advancement processes too if an employee began to fail after going through that. Were there warning signs that a hiring manager or supervisor could and should have picked up upon? Where in this business could improvements be made in their personnel policy and practices to better limit the likelihood of this type of employee performance challenge arising?
• I am not writing about interchangeable, readily replaced employees here and note that businesses like Mesotech do not tend to see their people that way anyway. If the employee caught up in this type of situation is one with crucial limited-availability skills or one who works in a crucially sensitive area of the business where there is little if any room immediately available for others to pick up on any slack created by work performance failures, these questions can become very high priority, in keeping with the high priority level of concern that that type of workplace failure creates for its impact on business performance as a whole. This type of event might be handled primarily at the lower and middle management level, but when consequences are significant, it is likely that senior management is going to want to be apprised of what has happened and of how it is resolved too, and at the very least kept in the loop for this.
• Now what do you do with the under-performing employee at a place like Mesotech? If they are a new hire, do you dismiss them prior to the end of their probationary period? In most cases the answer there would be yes. But what if this was a longer term employee who used to perform well or even in an exemplary manner and now, perhaps suddenly they begin to lose capacity for this? What should you do then? What else is happening in their lives and would it make sense to work out an accommodation to address new and emerging needs or challenges that they face?
• Consider an employee who is suddenly facing a major health crisis in their family, and who really needs some time off, or a schedule adjustment in order to better juggle workplace and home life demands. The primary point here is that an underperforming employee might be a great employee who is facing so many challenges all at once, that even good becomes all but impossible to achieve. And specific accommodations and support that would not create costs for the business might make all of the difference needed for that employee.

Now let’s consider the Omega Company with its sink or swim, more social Darwinian approach. Very little of the above bullet pointed discussion applies there. If an employee fails to perform, they are let go and replaced and as quickly and efficiently as possible so as to limit anything like down-time in their business systems or in their performance there. A company like Omega has well-tuned and well-practiced processes for hiring and for dismissal too, and they use them together in tandem. And for them, the primary learning curve issues for the business itself are in how insight gained from dismissals, can be applied to improving their job candidate vetting and selection process, and their essentially of-necessity brief and selectively focused onboarding process. Their emphasis is much less on who has run into trouble in their work performance as an employee, and much more on who they would bring in to replace them and on how they would be selected and brought in to do that.

The issues and challenges that I raise here represent one of the crucial areas where the Alpha Company is in fact a lot more like Mesotech, than it is like the Omega Company.

• When you consider how they hire when they do and how they seek to retain their employees
• It can almost be accepted as a given that a company that follows the Alpha approach, would seek out ways to resolve work performance problems and avoid dismissals wherever that is possible.
• The difference is in how that is carried out, and in what the overall goals and priorities are in doing so – and in what those two businesses seek to learn from having faced this challenge when moving forward from it. Businesses that follow more of an Alpha Company model are less practiced and less organized, and a great deal more ad hoc in their hiring than would be expected in a business like Mesotech, and they follow that same pattern here too.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment with the fourth to-address bullet point as repeated at the top of this posting:

• How these three business types promote and advance employees who show particular value and potential in that direction.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 (with this included as a supplemental posting there) and at the first directory page and second, continuation page to this Guide. Also see HR and Personnel and HR and Personnel – 2.

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