When it comes to incompetent employees, few managers long to swing the personnel axe despite the problems these employees create. Some managers go all out trying to solve an employee’s performance problems with behavior modification plans or reassignment of duties. That’s admirable and even good business practice when it’s successful. Good managers know that a proper firing involves process and procedure, and that you can’t employ a knee-jerk reaction. But what effect does this long process or the drawn-out attempts to “redeem” a problematic employee have on the rest of the staff?

The answer depends on the problem. If you have an employee who doesn’t carry his or her share of the workload and is allowed to stay on with the same benefits and pay rates as those who are doing their share, then you could have a big problem on your hands. What incentive is there for the good performers to keep doing well when not doing well doesn’t seem to matter? TechRepublic recently asked members if they’ve ever had to shoulder the burden a bad hire imposed and, if so, how they suggested managers deal with poor performers.

One bad apple…
Member AliasClaire said, “When management refuses to deal with bad behavior, incompetence, or terrible communicators, the result is very destructive to the company. I work with several people who have been promoted beyond their capabilities or outside their area of competence. I’m bitter and am actively seeking employment elsewhere.”

Sometimes, when a bad employee is not getting his or her comeuppance, conspiracy theories arise. For example, member bigal69olz is also bitter from having been working over a year with a hire who doesn’t have the knowledge he claimed he did in the interview. “I can’t trust anything he does or says,” bigal69olz said. “I’ve brought this to management’s attention since [the bad employee’s] second week on the job, but management always makes excuses for him. I wonder if he’s related to someone in upper management?”

That could be. Or it could be that management doesn’t quite understand the impact this employee’s incompetence is having on the rest of the staff. It could also be that management is aware of the problems and is working on them. As one IT manager put it, “You try to turn a problem employee around whenever you can. But when things are just hopeless, you still have to put some time into the process of letting someone go. You have to document examples of performance failures. Wrongful termination lawsuits are expensive, so you have to cover your bases.”

Indeed, firing someone can be risky for a company, especially if the employee in question is a member of a protected minority. But sometimes it isn’t a matter of legal safeguards. Sometimes a manager really wants to salvage a poor or incompetent performer. Those posting to the discussion had differing opinions on the value of this.

Can it be done?
That depends on the degree of incompetence, according to some of our discussion posters. Member abreumas said, “I think you’re dreaming if you think a great manager can get anyone to perform well. Managers can’t fix every personal defect nor are they rewarded for doing so. If people were clever enough to mold everyone into perfect people, there wouldn’t be any divorces.”

Tvarjan thinks that most problems could be solved, but “there are no more than a handful of IT managers who are actually good at managing.” Ronkoch, on the other hand, thinks there’s hope for poor performers. He suggests that an IT manager:

  • Look within the company and try to find a different position better suited to the problem employee’s skills and capabilities. A bad tech pro can become an excellent sales or customer service rep.
  • Enroll the bad employee in your company’s professional training program, if it has one.
  • Give the bad employee a refresher class in his or her primary duties.

Andyjmoon believes that “a good manager knows how to get the most out of his or her people no matter who they are. A good manager also has the ability to show people the proper way to act and work without actually threatening them.” Andyjmoon added what could be the key to the whole discussion, saying, “A good manager knows how to minimize the impact that those defects have on the working environment.”

Minimizing impact could mean disciplining incompetent employees, working tirelessly to turn their behavior around, reassigning them to different positions, or firing them. What’s important is that managers understand that no employee exists in a vacuum and that personnel decisions affect the entire team. Long, drawn-out processes can wreak havoc on morale and productivity.