Friday, July 17, 2009

Problem Employees!

"Without a compelling cause, our employees are just putting in time. Their minds might be engaged, but their hearts are not."
-Lee J. Colan, 7 Moments that Define Excellent Leaders

Problem employees are an unavoidable part of the working world. We all have had to work for, work with or supervise a difficult employee. Although in many cases you inherit the problem worker, he or she is still your responsibility. It is so glib to say, “Let’s just get rid of the problem worker.” This is an unreasonable solution for many reasons.

I do not think that there is a clear definition of a problem employee. What is clear, however, is that these employees tend to affect the morale of the entire organization and make your life very difficult. Too often, the implicit assumption is that a replacement worker must be better; however, this is frequently not the case.

How would a manager make a decision on a piece of equipment that was causing a maintenance headache? Well before it was replaced, I guarantee you that a thorough analysis of the problem would be conducted, and possible alternatives for fixing the problem(s) would be evaluated. It is just good business to make sure that the problem cannot be corrected before a new asset is purchased. Yet, this same type of analysis is not done on employees who are having difficulties.

So many times I see employers letting staff go simply because they did not give the manager what they wanted. However, when I go back to the staff member and ask if they understood what was expected of them, the majority says, “No.” In these instances, management never attempted to work with them to see if it was possible to overcome the problem.

I think so many times the cost of replacing a worker is either unrealized or is perceived as small and inconsequential. There is no question in my mind that if you fully account for all of the time involved in hiring a replacement (i.e.: time spent advertising to find a new employee, interviewing candidates and training a new hire) and numerous other indirect expenses, the cost of replacing a worker amounts to at least 100 percent of the annual salary.

If the cost to replace a worker is so high, why do so many firms keep on doing this over and over? I think the answer is that many managers lack the skill set to deal with problematic employees or behaviors. For example, if you have a worker that has been coming in late to work, and you are disappointed because you believe you have made the company policy clear to everyone, maybe the issue is that you are not connecting with the employee, being clear about the expectations or there is something going on in their personal life that is influencing their behavior.

Changing behavior is especially difficult if it has been tolerated for a period of time. However, working to overcome an employee’s problem rather than seeking to hire a new worker will often pay off in the long run.

In looking to overcome behavioral issues, consider the root cause of the problem. For example, is there something in the company culture that is contributing to the problem behavior? In the case of the late employee, maybe you are being inconsistent about enforcing company policies. Are some people allowed to come in late due to personal circumstances that are not explained to the other employees? Are you holding people accountable, or do you let things slide?

Once you have determined the reason behind the behavior, there are many things that you can do to turn the situation around. Firstly, provide specific guidelines and processes to help clarify expectations. Secondly, ensure open communication with managers and employees to help resolve minor issues before they become serious problems.

A third possibility is the use of incentives, rewards and recognition as ways of reinforcing the change you are looking for. I have seen some managers simply start acknowledging positive changes in behaviors, and that has been the key to effecting the change. For example, with the habitually late worker, offer a kind word about the improvement the employee is showing by successfully arriving on time three days out of five.

The bottom line is that an employee’s problematic behavior should not necessarily mean termination. Rather, it should be thought of as an opportunity to turn this employee into a great employee.

You can do this!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Junior Achievement

One of the things that each entrepreneur has a duty to do, is to spread the word as to why entrepreneurship is such a wonderful and rewarding occupation. So many times at FSU I have seen students wonder into my office and see so surprised that there is a major in entrepreneurship. They simply did not realize that this field existed.

For last seven years at the Jim Moran Institute, we have provided the resources and volunteers to bring Junior Achievement into the high schools of Leon County, Florida. Junior Achievement is a wonderful national and international(?) organization that provides the support necessary for providing the entrepreneurship education in the school systems.

I would go every year to the end of the school year luncheon of JA and here the volunteers(other entrepreneurs)talk about how much they have gained from the experience and then the teachers would talk about how much the kids learn from volunteers. I was so impressed by this each year and was constantly running into students who thanked us for bringing JA to their school and how much they learned about business.

About a year ago, Florida Commerce Credit Union gave us some extra money to hire a coordinator of Junior Achievement(Wanda Brafford). However, they wanted JA to be taught in the elementary schools of Leon County.

After we sent out a request to just 4 elementary schools, we had over 50 teachers who wanted the program in their classroom. I was surprised by the response and we were short of volunteer teachers so the entire team at Florida Commerce Credit Union and JMI jumped into teaching these classes.

I just finished teaching Mrs. Whitaker’s 5th grade class at Gilchrist Elementary the Junior Achievement curriculm. I was so impressed as the kids were smart and very attentive and really got the notion of what an entrepreneur did and how important they are to both the community as well as nationally and internationally.

One of the last exercises we did was to hand out cards to each child in the class all standing in a circle with a country of origin for some part of manufacturing a car shown on the card. As I called out the product, the student said where the product was from and then passed a string to the next person. As we did this, it became evident of the large web they had made from the string showing the interconnectedness of our world.

I thourghly enjoyed this experience as it showed me that Junior Achievement is very effective at teaching entrepreneurship and that children are never to young to learn about it. However, we need your help.

If you would like to volunteer and are an entrepreneur, please write Wanda Brafford at for more information. There is no pay for this service but knowing that you are helping to educate students about the importance and revelance of entrepreneurship.

You can do this.
MVP Lounge
To my customer:
I may not have the answer, but I'll find it.
I may not have the time, but I'll make it.
I may not be the biggest, but I'll be the most committed to your success.


One of the things that is so important is to reward loyalty of your existing and best customers to make sure that they feel appreciated. There are many ways to do this and the question is not so much how to do this but to make sure that you are doing something to insure your best customers feel really great about your business. Legacy Toyota in Tallahassee demonstrated this concept vividly to me the last time I was there to get my car serviced.
They recently had significantly expanded and built a beautiful new facility across the street from where they were currently located. As part of this new facility, customers could wait in a very pleasant area near the showroom with plenty to drink and free snacks as well. It was comfortable place to wait with one large TV.
However, the owner of Legacy, Les Akers, wanted to reward his loyal customers who bought cars from him and to make them feel important. He came up with the idea of having an MVP Club for customers who had bought cars(either new or used) from his dealership. A significant part of this club is the MVP lounge where there are computer terminals with access to the internet and very comfortable chairs plus two large flat screen TVs. Also, there are better drinks and snacks here. Additionally, by being a member of this MVP Club, you receive discounts on services and parts and a whole of host of other benefits.

While Legacy’s MVP lounge costs money to stock and maintain, the customers appreciate the special care they get from the staff that support the lounge and their comfort. I talked to the three or four customers who were waiting for their cars while I was, and they were all so thankful for the special treatment. They all said that this lounge made the decision for their next car very easy to make. They all said they felt pampered by the exclusivity of the room and the additional benefits they received there.

While this MVP club is one way to reward loyal customers there are numerous other ones from frequent buyer cards, to customer parties, to seats at various sporting events. The point is that you always want to give great customer service to each employee but to your best and loyal customers, you want to make them feel like MVP’s.

Now go out and make sure you have a plan in place to make your best and most loyal customers feel rewarded for continuing to business with you.

You can do this!