I have expressed many times my belief that you need to spend the time and effort to train your team members. I have also explained that too many people expect to hire the perfect employee and are too quick to fire someone. I am a firm believer in the fact that most people want to do a good job, they just lack the direction, support, or skills to do so. As I have stated many times, I feel that if you provide a team member with the proper training and support, and they understand what the expectations are, most will perform and meet or exceed your expectations. This article is not about those people. This article is about those few people who cannot be taught. While this is not meant to be a negative article, I felt it was important to help others understand that sometimes, ‘that dog just won’t hunt’.
Throughout my career I have always made an effort to provide as much training, and support as possible. When a team member stumbles, I try to catch them and help them understand the meaning of a teachable moment. However, you do need to know when enough is enough. Over the years I have spent hours trying to teach and mentor people that just were not willing to learn. In most cases it was due to the fact that they believed that they already knew everything. As you can imagine it isn’t possible to teach someone something if they already know everything.
Recently I had an employee that was technically as good as you could find. The quality of his work was as high as any other team member I had. However, he had the misconception that he already knew everything and was bothered by the training meetings I hold every month. He would be the last person in the room, he spent most of the time looking at his Blackberry while I would be going through the training, and when I would ask for questions he would only ask questions like, “when can we all get a raise or a bonus?”, or any other question that would cause discomfort amongst the team members in the room. Most customers liked the quality of his work but didn’t like his attitude. This combined with his combative nature towards authority commonly put me in a difficult position.
One morning I received a call from our insurance company informing me of an incident where this employee was charged with a felony reckless driving offense, and that he would no longer be allowed to operate any company owned equipment, including the service truck he was currently using. He had done it to himself now. His contempt for authority had caught up with him. I had no choice at this point but to terminate his employment.
Upon reflection I knew I needed to remove this employee from my organization prior to this point, and I could have avoided the risk if I had properly analyzed the situation. However, I tend to error on the side of giving people a chance to improve and grow, rather than just removing them at the first sign of trouble. With that said, there has to be a point where you realize, that ‘that dog won’t hunt’, and all of your efforts are in vain.
Due to this particular turn of events, I have taken the time to look deep inside myself and come up with a new method to mitigate the risk of such team members. I have implemented this method, and if you are on the fence about a particular team member I suggest you do the following steps as well, to see if they are worth the time to train. First, give them some simple clear objectives to complete, make it something that doesn’t require any real skill, just follow through. Once you have tasked them with these simple objectives; then gauge their performance on completing those tasks. Did they complete the tasks in a timely manner? What was the quality of their delivered product? How much support did you have to give them before they completed the project? Once you have analyzed the results, the answer should be pretty clear. If the team member cannot perform on simple tasks that require little to no skill-set, what is the use of spending time and effort in training them further? Think about it for a minute. If they couldn’t complete something that was well within their knowledge base, then all the training in the world isn’t going to change their work practices. The tasks you gave them, they already knew how to do, since that was a prerequisite of the task in the first place, so training wouldn’t have helped the final outcome.
I hope everyone understands that I have not changed my beliefs one bit. I still believe that most people, with the proper training and support, will turn into highly effective team members. However, there has to be a time when you stop banging your head against the wall, stop expending so much effort in trying to drag someone to success, and just realize that, ‘that dog won’t hunt’.
In closing, just because ‘that dog won’t hunt’, doesn’t mean that dog can’t be a good guard dog, service dog, or just a good companion. Even when you realize that someone doesn’t fit into your organization, it doesn’t mean they can’t excel somewhere else. So don’t put the dog down just because it won’t hunt, help find a place where that dog can feel special. Not because it is your responsibility, but because it is the right thing to do.