How to Assess Problem Employees: Will vs. Skill

Do you have a marginally performing employee?  Not sure exactly what to do?  Should you keep supporting them? When (in what circumstances) should you terminate their employment?

A friend of mine, a certified executive coach, gave a great example of how to simplify decisions when dealing with low-performing staff:  Determine if your employee has the WILL to succeed, and if he/she has the SKILL to succeed.

Obviously, employees who already have both Will and Skill are likely doing just fine:  it’s folks lacking one of these attributes that will be showing signs of failure in the job.

WILL = Attitude and positive motivation

If an individual has the technical job skill but not the WILL, you are dealing with attitude issues.

a) Your employee may be tired, frustrated, angry or depressed.  You will need to use psychological approaches and motivation strategies to shift the attitude in a positive direction.

b) Decide on the best strategy to approach the employee, depending on the reason for lack of WILL at work.   Note: there may be external factors impacting your employee (eg a personal situation, medical issues, etc).  Tread carefully when dealing with your employee’s privacy – stay focused on performance behaviors in your discussions and approach.

c) Set a deadline and a measure of progress that could reasonably be expected under the circumstances.

d) Define a “line in the sand” status, where you would determine that the employee is not salvageable in the position.  If, after a reasonable time period, you cannot see progress beyond this line in the sand, termination will be the last option.

In my experience, a line in the sand always includes two things:  the employee exerts personal effort towards improvement, and external relationships are improved /damaged relationships are mended.   If  these elements are not evident, there may be reputation damage beyond repair, in which no amount of goodwill can salvage the situation.

SKILL = Technical ability to execute the job duties

Employees who have motivation but lack technical ability may simply need the right resources, training and support in their role.

a) Assess which skills are lacking in the individual.  Are these gaps small enough that a training and support will ensure performance success?  Does the individual have the aptitude to accomplish improvements with a training and support program?

b) If the answer above is “yes, the employee could bridge the current skill gap”, then have a frank chat regarding performance and confirm the employee’s willingness to upskill in the job.

c) Set a deadline and a measure of progress that could reasonably be expected under the circumstances.

d) Define a “line in the sand” status, where you would determine that the employee is not salvageable in the position.  If, after a reasonable time period, you cannot see progress beyond this line in the sand (that is, despite effort the technical skills do not materialize), termination will be the last option.

The Last Resort:  Termination

Termination is always the most difficult option because an employee’s livelihood is at stake.  Good leaders do not take this alternative unless the situation is absolutely unsalvageable.  Tips for terminating an employee:

a)  Make sure you, as employer, have treated the employee fairly.  Make sure you have made a solid effort to correctly identify the problem and support the employee /correct the situation

b) Focus on performance problems not personal traits; be respectful; do not make the issue personal or emotional with the employee

c) Where possible, offer a graceful exit for the employee.  Take the high road and offer dignified options for your employee

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Simple Leadership Lessons from George Marshall (guest blog)

George Catlett Marshall served the United States as Chief of Staff of the Army, as chief military advisor to President Roosevelt and as Secretary of State. He created the Marshall Plan, which President Truman insisted bear Marshall’s name, and for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Marshall’s leadership lessons that any boss can apply:

1) Deliver excellent performance.

Recollections of those who served with Marshall paint the picture of a tireless worker who always delivered excellent results. But there is another example of his performance that is simply amazing. Army fitness reports ask the standard question: “Would you want this person to serve under your command in the future?” Two different commanding officers answered that question about Marshal with, “Yes, but I would prefer to serve under his command.”

2) Encourage and develop good people.

Early in his career, Marshall began keeping records of excellent officers that he met. When he was in a position to do so he encouraged those officers and helped them develop. Most notable among the bunch was Dwight Eisenhower.

3) Remove those who can’t do the job and promote those who can.

Marshall’s policy was simple. Those who proved they couldn’t do the job were given other assignments. Then he filled the position with the best person available, even if that person was considered vital elsewhere.

4) Communicate effectively.

President Roosevelt was a sailor and had served as Secretary of the Navy. When Marshall briefed Roosevelt, he always used nautical language familiar to the President. Once he even created a cardboard ship model and used it to illustrate the organization of the Army.

5) Do the kind and the gracious thing.

Stories abound about Marshall’s kindness and concern for others without regard to rank or position. When he was Deputy Commandant of the Infantry School at Fort Benning during the Depression he discovered that married junior enlisted men had a difficult living on their pay of $21 a month. Marshall made it possible (despite regulations to the contrary) for those families to purchase a pail of food from the mess hall at minimum cost.

When he was Chief of Staff, his own mentor, John Pershing came to visit Marshall in the office. Marshall knew that Pershing hated public displays and being stared at. He also knew that the people on his staff really wanted to see the legendary Pershing up close. Marshall’s solution was to chat with Pershing in his private office, but find an excuse to bring every member of the staff into the office on some errand or other, at which time they could be introduced to General Pershing.

6) Surround yourself with excellent people.

After Dwight Eisenhower was elected President, Marshall wrote a gracious congratulatory letter, in which he said the following. “I pray especially for you in the choice of those near you. That choice, more than anything else, will determine the problems of the years and the record of history. Make them measure up to your standards.”

Boss’s Bottom Line:  Pay attention to the people.

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How to start a mentor relationship (guest blog)

In my work as a career coach, I find there are several helpful resources that very few people take advantage of.

Mentorship definitely falls on this list. It’s really a shame. Having a mentor can elevate your professional capabilities exponentially.

And—added bonus—mentors are amazing people. When you take the time to develop a strong mentorship relationship, you get access to a wealth of knowledge and experience, but you also end up with a lifelong friend and potential future business partner. In short, there’s no downside.

Of course, if you aren’t familiar with the concept, you may have questions about how it all works. Well, that’s what I’m here for!! Please allow me to offer some insights.

What Exactly Is a Mentor?

A mentor is a more experienced (typically older) professional in your field who offers you career guidance, advice and assistance from a real world point-of-view. Pretty simple, huh?

Why Should I Bother?

As mentioned above, mentorship offers a host of amazing benefits. A good mentor is wise and willing to share his or her knowledge and experiences in order to help you succeed. It’s like having a wonderful trusted ally to go to whenever you’re feeling unsure or in need of support. They can help you set and achieve career goals, make smart business decisions, overcome workplace challenges, learn new skills or simply offer an outside perspective when you’re facing frustrations at work. The benefits are truly endless.

When Should I Get a Mentor?

Mentors are helpful regardless of where you are in your career. Whether you’re fresh out of college or a few years from retirement, there are always others who have “been there, done that” from whom you can learn. So no matter who you are, I always say, “NOW is a great time to start.”

If/when you’re more experienced, you may want to BE a mentor. Please do so!! It’s an incredibly fulfilling experience and I believe that mentors learn just as much as those they assist. But I encourage everyone to also find a mentor of your own. As humans, we’re always learning and evolving, and even the most experienced professional doesn’t know everything.

More than likely, the mentorship relationships of experienced professionals will not look the same as those who are entry-level or mid-career. You may have a mentor who is closer in age and experience—or even someone who is your junior! As long as the person has qualities and knowledge you can learn from, it’s perfectly acceptable.

Who Should Be My Mentor?

This is a big question and I recommend you take some time to think it over carefully. The choice of person makes a big difference in the success of the relationship and, ultimately, in YOUR success. Look for someone you respect professionally and someone who has a career you’d like to emulate. That doesn’t mean you want to follow in their footsteps exactly; you’re just looking for a person who has had success in your field (or even a similar one) and someone who embodies the professional characteristics you’re working to achieve.

Of course, you also need to find someone who is willing to be a mentor, is eager to share knowledge, will be open and honest with you, will have time to dedicate to you (though how much is flexible) and is trustworthy. You’ll be potentially sharing a lot of sensitive information so this last point is essential.

Lastly, I recommend that you look for someone you like on a personal level, not just a professional one. You should look forward to spending time with your mentor. The conversations should be pleasant, engaging and inspiring.

How Does the Mentorship Relationship Work?

Establish specifics around your relationship in whatever way works best for both you and your mentor. It can be a formal arrangement, an informal one or something in the middle. No matter what, it has to work for both of you. To get started, I recommend that you, as the mentee, come up with your “ideal” relationship. Share the information with your mentor and make sure you leave it open for discussion. Find out how much time they are willing to invest and build a schedule based on that.

For example, my first mentorship relationship was rather informal. My mentor and I would meet via phone about once a month (usually for an hour) and in between these conversations, we would communicate via email. I would send work to him when I needed a quick critique. He would send me links of articles to read when he stumbled upon something I might learn from.

When I was facing a challenge, I’d check in with him for a little guidance and reassurance that I was doing the right thing. A few times a year, he’d UPS me a book. It was an easy relationship for both of us to keep up with, but I got tremendous benefit from it.

The key to success is simply defining the relationship from the beginning. Make it an open dialogue. Ask for what you want and need from your mentor, be willing to compromise, and listen closely to make sure there is agreement. Be sure to clarify your expectations (specifically around things like confidentiality). You don’t want there to be any confusion.

Lastly, let your mentor know that you see this as an ongoing process. If, at any time, the relationship isn’t working for either one of you, the details can and should be reviewed and revised. This doesn’t have to be stressful like a contract negotiation. Remember, it’s supposed to be a fun, growth experience!

What’s In It For Them?

You’re probably reading all of this thinking, “I get why I should want a mentor. But what’s in it for the them?” Good question. And the answer is different for everyone.

Some mentors simply believe in the person they are helping and want to see him or her succeed, and that alone is worth the time and energy. Others look at mentorship as a way of leaving a legacy. As a mentor, you get to pass your wisdom down to the next generation. You have the power to make a huge difference in your industry, your company and even the world.

In truth, some mentors just like the challenge. They like to talk about what they know and their experiences. It’s fun when someone looks up to you. It kind of feeds the ego.

So there are all kinds of reasons mentors do what they do. It’s a win-win situation.

I hope I’ve inspired you to start a mentorship relationship today. And if I failed to address an important question, please post it in the comments below. I’ll be happy to continue chatting about this!!

Guest blog by Chrissy Scivicque  on Forbes 
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Blogging for Dinosaurs – What I learned in my first month

Okay, I’m the older generation.  I went through high school when computers took up space on entire floors of a building.  Today, accumulating my entire 30 years of business knowledge could be simulated in mere months of technological progress.

At the beginning of this year, I was bored and looking for something new to learn.  Knowing that business marketing is being turned on its’ ear by social media influences, and considering that I want to build a business network to support an eventual consulting gig in my retirement, I thought, why not combine these two concepts and try to learn social media myself?

My New Year’s resolution was easy!  Just start a blog (I do have reasonable advice and stories to offer after 30 years in business), experiment with various elements of social media (Blogging, Facebook, Twitter) for a year or two and see how much of a network or business following I can build.  Not rocket science; however I was surprised at some of my early learnings.  Here’s my process:

Step 1)    Find a blog theme 

What is the focus of my personal blog going to be?  Marketing 101 asks “What is my passion and what purpose will my blog serve?”  My blog topics and themes should link to the same role, themes and expertise I will use in an eventual consulting practice.

After soul-searching, I realized that my theme is great leadership.  I find all things leadership-related fascinating, and I could write volumes about the good, the bad and the ugly of Leadership that I have learned over the years.

Step 2)   Establish a domain name, set up related email

“Leadership” is my theme, now I have to register a domain name that is meaningful – it should work for my blog today and also for my consulting business down the road.

I log onto several domain registration sites but “leaders” and “leadership” words are already taken.  Maybe my theme is too broad.

Start over.

Think deeper.

What is my passion, more specifically?

More soul-searching and I come up with online mentorship and coaching, which link better to my retirement consulting plans and the mentoring I have already been doing quietly in recent years.

The best new names I can find are “bizbytes” and “bizcoachonline”.  I reserve for a website, with for email, and for my blogwriting, using the intuitive Blogger application available on Google.

Step 3)    Set up a Website 

My website domain purchase comes with an easy template of four webpages that provide a home page, biography page, information page and contact page with subscription forms.  These pages are set up within a few hours, after playing around with available theme templates provided by the website provider.

The website remains in this raw, simple format today.  When I’m closer to retirement and starting the consulting “ask” in my business, I will expand the website to a more professional look (that will be another future blog story!).  Meantime, I use the email feature daily and provide occasional consulting services generated from queries and emails to the website.

Step 4)    Set up a Blog template

The blog setup was easier than I expected.  I used Blogger, a Google product. The cost? Free.   Blogger is very intuitive to create templates and widgets  using WYSIWYG (“what you see is what you get”) visuals typing on a page just like a Word document. The html code remains hidden in the background (not necessary to have this knowledge unless one is a fancy programmer with highly customized blog pages).   I spent about two days playing around with available Blogger themes and widgets on the visual tab, essentially building my preferred blog format through trial and error of adding, changing and deleting themes and widgets.

Note:  Within a couple of months, I learned that there are several other reputable blog server sites that have better long-term flexibility, search engine tools and functionality for bloggers.  Professional bloggers also migrate their blog pathname to their registered domain name – which meant eventually I would need to move away from Blogger to a different blog server (more about that in another blog story!).

Step 5)   Set up and maintain a Twitter account

My blog template/server is now set up and I am starting to write articles on leadership.  How do I attract readers and potential customers?  It’s time for Twitter, to draw readers to my blog.

I set up my own name @merylecorbett and start searching topics related to leadership on the twitter site.  The people with tweets that I like (ie. quotes or links to interesting other blogs) I click on “follow”, so I can read their tweet history in my own twitter stream.

My longer term goal is to get followers that will follow me, so I build up a presence on the internet.  I do this by tweeting short comments whenever I can, with links to my blog articles.  Within a few weeks, I have a dozen blogs written, I am tweeting evenings and weekends, I have searched key words on twitter related to leadership, I have followed about 200 select people, and I start to gain a group of followers myself.    Some of those followers are people who “followed me back” (after I searched out and followed them) while others came to follow me after reading my tweets and blog articles.

Step 6)    Focus on blog content – add value!

At the end of one month, I am writing one or two blogs per week, and tweeting evenings and weekends.   I notice there is volatility in the number of hits to my website.  The secret to success, from what I am reading and learning, is to keep a quality blog with great value-added content, to add blog content regularly and consistently.

I read on the internet about how to write effective blogs.  I start to add “guest blogs” (giving credit to other writers) when I find a particularly interesting article.  I find humorous videos on youtube and add some as blogs where they have a business theme.

Step 7)  The next challenge:  take my social media presence to the next level

When I’m out of town for a weekend and miss tweeting for a couple of days in a row, my volume of blog traffic drops, and my twitter followers also decrease.  What are the strategies I need to further build my social media presence?

Stay tuned for the next blog.

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Resume screening – 5 easy tips to speed your selection

There have been several times when I was swamped with hundreds of resumes for a single job posting – how does one screen down to the best applicants without taking days and days of effort?

1)  Define your most unique, critical requirements in the job

Do you require certain unique characteristics that are essential for success in the job?  I hired for one position where an ability to “make sense from chaotic data” was much more important than the core accounting skills usually required in that role. In another situation, I required very strong “relationship building skills” because that was the most lacking strength within my department at the time.

Before going through your resumes, set up specific, unique requirements that not all candidates will possess – this will speed up your ability to narrow down your shortlist in record time.

2) Skim your resumes, separate into 3 categories:  A, B and C

The A pile is your “qualified-for-sure” candidates — they meet the unique minimum requirements for the job, and on paper they theoretically should be able to do the job very well (contingent of course upon your meeting them, verifying resume facts and their personality or fit to the role).  This A pile should be about 10-15% of the total resumes.

The B pile is your “maybe” candidates — they fulfill some requirements or look interesting but do not stand out.  Maybe these resumes meet 75-80% of your candidate requirements and you will have to follow up to see if other strengths are present.  This pile will be your backup plan if all of the “A” candidates don’t pan out (yes, sometimes all the A candidates don’t make the final cut).  This B pile should be about 20-40% of the total resumes.

The C pile is your “no thanks!” candidates — they are resumes with spelling, grammar or factual mistakes, as well as resumes of candidates who do not meet the core skillsets, personality traits or unique critical requirements for the job.

If you are harsh with spelling, grammar and standards of professionalism when skimming the resumes, you can usually cut out at least 30-50% of the candidate simmediately by using a critical eye to the documents.  This C pile should be more than half of your total resume list.

3) Focus on the A list, screen further with a brief phone interview

The A list will contain candidates that fit your needs; however you may not fit their needs.  A brief phonecall with several filtering questions can reduce your list down to better win/win candidates for a more detailed interview.  Questions I often use for phone filtering:

 – What is the range of compensation you are expecting?

 – Would you be willing to move to XYZ location?

 – Where do you see yourself careerwise in 5 years?

 – What is the reason you are leaving (or have left) your current position?

 – Why do you want this job?

 – Based on our job advertisement, how would your approach the first 90 days in this job?

The above questions indicate a candidate’s own expectations.  The answers will identify any large gaps in expectations (compensation, career mobility, relocating, approach/style).  These gaps will give you another filter to reduce your candidate pool to a small short list for interviews.  You will save cost, time and travel expense of interviewing a larger number of candidates.

4) Filter your shortlist by screening candidates’ social media presence

I can often shorten my hiring list by another 30-50% simply by doing a quick internet search on their names in Facebook,Linked In and Twitter.    There is an amazing amount of information out in cyberspace – some examples I have seen (all true) include drunken photos, sexual conversations, disparaging remarks about a current employer, and evidence of poor personality fit (eg: “I’m a gypsy psychic who can tell your fortune” applying to work in a military style organization).

5) Don’t settle for candidates who don’t meet the critical elements of the job

In a hot labor market, you may struggle to find the right candidate with good “fit” to your organization and good technical skills.  Don’t settle for less than your minimums out of desperation.  Wait and keep searching for the right resume and the right candidate!  In my thirty years of business experience, I have never regretted waiting for the right candidate but I have regretted, more than once, hiring in haste or desperation.

The best solution:  a win/win with the right candidate.  They will fit your organization’s needs and thrive in a job role that fits their niche skills and talents.

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