Do You Fix the Cog or Throw it Out?

As a business owner, staff manager, office executive, or basically anyone in charge of other people, you are likely to face the issue of one of the cogs in your machine getting run down from time to time.  And, of course, by cogs, I mean employees that you manage; and by machine, I mean your company.


Just as in any mechanical or interpersonal system where many separate moving pieces work together towards one common goal, eventually some of the pieces wear out and cause a kink in the process.  This is normal; in fact, it is to be expected.  The real problem comes in deciding what to do about the piece – aka the employee.

When you work with someone on a regular basis, a natural symbiotic relationship starts to form.  Your employee works to help you improve your company, and in turn, you start to care about them and their well-being.  Often times, you know personal details about their lives such as if they have kids, a spouse out of work, or a sick relative who they are financially responsible for.

Knowing these details can make the process of deciding what to do when a “cog” malfunctions quite difficult.  While on the one hand your knee-jerk choice may be to toss out the cog and move on to a new one, on the other hand, you feel morally obligated to take a crack at fixing the situation.  You know this cog, you probably even like this cog as a person; and even though their performance hasn’t been up to par lately, is cutting them lose and replacing them really the right thing to do?

It’s one of the hardest choices you face as a business owner or manger.  Although there really is no simple answer, here are a few key questions to ask yourself to help you make your decision:

1. Are the problems that have been presenting themselves a recent development, or do they stem from long-term, ongoing issues?

If they stem from long-term problems, this cog (ok, let’s just be real and start calling them “employees”) might have never been the right fit from the start.  It’s possible that lack of time to look for the right person, or just the fact that you enjoy the employee on a personal level may have caused you to overlook these issues in the past; but now, as they are starting to affect your daily business more and more, the problems are getting too big to ignore.

On the flip side, if the problems are a recent development, there might be something going on in the office, or in the personal life of the employee that’s causing the dip in performance, and the situation could likely be corrected with some coaching.   In this instance, pull the employee into your office and present them with a chance to talk to you about what’s going on.  Give them specific examples of where you have seen their performance slip and see what their reasoning behind it is.  There is even a chance that this particular employee is just the bud, but not the root, of a bigger problem.

2. Is the employee coachable?

Coachable EmployeeDoes this employee even realize that what he/she has been doing is a problem?  Not everyone possesses the same level of “street smarts” or common sense when it comes to their job.  There is a chance that they don’t realize that some of their ongoing habits or behaviors are counterproductive to the work place.  If you suspect that this may be the problem, and you have never provided this employee with specific coaching on this topic (or a relevant topic), consider giving them some specific advice and a chance to correct the behavior before you cut them lose.

You can even write up and have them sign a counseling statement acknowledging that you spoke to them about this issue.  Give them a set period of time to consistently correct the behavior – and if, within that amount of time, the problem disappears, you can feel good about the fact that you didn’t jump the gun and fire an overall good employee over an issue they didn’t understand.

3. Is this employee affecting your business as a whole?

Helping EmployeesLet’s face it, there are many areas where our work performance can start to slip, and some are a much bigger deal than others.  Examine the areas where this employee’s faults lie.  If they are mostly present in areas of your business that don’t directly affect your business or your clients (for example, they consistently forget to do their cleaning duty once a week), it is likely worth giving the employee a light slap on the wrist and waiting to see if they can turn things around.

But, if the issues are having a direct and consistently negative effect on either the morale of your other employees (for instance, a habit of spreading hurtful gossip or a bad attitude toward co-workers), your clients (being rude to people over the phone, treating clients/customers with anything less than the utmost respect and kindness), or negatively affecting your product (consistently missing errors and letting products go to clients with costly mistakes and faults), then it’s likely time to wash your hands of that employee and move on.

My final word of advice is: when in doubt, go with your gut.

You are smart (come on, give yourself the credit you deserve), and you know your business.  If your gut tells you to overlook some minor (or maybe even major) indiscretions because there is untapped potential in this employee which could ultimately serve your business well in the future, then keep them!  But, if deep down, you know that regardless of how much you might like this employee as a person, they are just not the right professional fit for your company, don’t ignore that nagging voice in your head.  Listen to it, thank the employee for the time they have spent at your company, and move on.


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