I was sitting with my friend Nate, who owns a company with more than 100 employees, the other night and we discussed one of his employees. Let's call him Joe.
When I worked with Nate, four years ago, this employee Joe was also there.
Nate and I talked about how Joe could have been a great, or terrible employee. The end result, when Joe was unmanaged he always ‘managed’ to start doing things wrong. He’d create new processes, or try to sell his shotgun by leaving it on a table in an attempt to ‘auction’ it.
However, when he was managed, even just a little bit, he was able to work to his capacity and do great.
I learned this lesson for myself with an employee I’ll call Sharon. She was quite socially awkward, homely, comparatively old, and because she had financial issues hadn’t had dental in years - resulting in some more than notable halitosis.
My staff, typically made up of 20-somethings who were either college educated, or capable of that, simply didn’t like Sharon. As a result she was isolated. Furthermore she wasn’t the brightest tool in the crate. Being alone and looking to get herself involved she would take on tasks that were inappropriate for her capacity. This would often lead to poor work, redundant work, and more than anything it added to her isolation.
As the manager of this dozen or so people I was considering letting Sharon go. She just was not a good fit. But I had trouble because firing people is 1) hard, and in this case 2) cruel. I decided to spend a little one-on-one time with Sharon. Not painless because of the above reasons.
What I learned more than anything is that she just wanted to feel useful. This was, in great part, because our company had a much happier and livelier company that she was used to. She WANTED to engage, but just couldn’t. So she would make up new things to do. Once I was able to see this underlying desire, I quickly realized that with a little bit of sincere praise and some more control over her workflow than my average employee she would be fine.
So I set up a once every 2 weeks 15-20 min meeting to spend with her reviewing work and re-tasking her according to her capabilities. The result, she became one of the most useful employees that I had. I later learned this is called a Personnel Management Interview (PMI) and should be done with all employees, as each employees needs.
After starting PMI, Sharon started working out a lot better socially since she was a) no longer stepping on other employees toes, b) willing to do the work that others didn’t want to do, and c) freed up so much time for everyone else. And, lastly, because she was with the company long enough to get dental and access our work and fitness programs, she lost her halitosis and some weight.
If you look at time as your only real asset, and there is an employee with a potential ROI as high as hers (spend <10 min/week = good employee) then the value of the time from good → great employee is worth it.
(FYI: When I left the company I got a call from the new manager who had Sharon problems, I walked her through the PMI process above to the same result).
But hey, what do I know?