Training & Development

Quint Column: An issue of will or skill?

Quint Studer.

When looking at an employee’s performance, it’s not enough to analyze where someone is falling short on performance. Dig deeper: Is the lack of performance because of will or because of skill?

I recently spoke at a high-performing organization that has enjoyed strong improvement in recent years. All the key indicators are trending the right way. The employees are feeling good, but the need to improve remains. Of course the stronger the organization, the harder it is to continue to push the needle. You’re in a strong class, and the organizations you are compared to are strong.

Making decisions on the employees who need to leave the organization is easier early on when the success isn’t there yet. Some are asked to leave, and some self-select and head out. One reason: Either attitude, or the lack of will to adapt.

When I became a president of an organization, I believed that new hires needed to be interviewed by their future co-workers. We even put in place a system in which co-workers could veto a supervisor’s selection. A manager in our company quit immediately, saying, “The inmates are running the asylum.” She just could not fathom why the staff should get such input. That’s a will departure.

Will departures typically go first. You’ll see more absences, tardiness, and the inability to follow basic rules as other signs.

Typically, a leader realizes that if the person shows a bad attitude at work, it quickly and negatively impacts others. So, when is it time to let go of someone for a lack of will? My answer is when you are working harder at that person’s success than they are.

However, when skill is the issue, departure decisions get more difficult.

Remember that emerging organization that continues to get stronger? Tough choices emerge, too. There may be employees with a great attitude and the will to success, but they just can’t acquire the skill. Think about minor league baseball: In the six years the Blue Wahoos have played in Pensacola, I can only recall one player out of hundreds whose will was questioned.

More than 99 percent spent their years working hard with great passion, their sights set on playing in the major leagues. To even get drafted by a major league team means a player has beat tremendous odds. Those odds shrink further when it comes to reaching Double-A

So when a player can’t take the next step from Double-A, it is not will problem. It’s a skill issue.

It is hard to make a change when the person cannot acquire the needed skills to achieve success. But it is the fair thing to do.

Here are some ways to make this difficult decision slightly easier:

— Hold up the mirror. Ask yourself this question: “If you do not make the decision, what will happen?” The answer is that the department, business, etc, will suffer. In addition, other staff can lose enthusiasm.

— Realize truth. Many times, you aren’t the only one noticing a fall-off in productivity. The employee also knows they are failing, and while it is painful to be told they do not have the needed skill, there is often a sense of relief.

Manage the plan. If you want to give the employee more time, be very specific on what outcomes need to be achieved and by when.

Look to an internal transfer. While you do not want to rationalize a better fit, if there is a better place in the organization for the person, try it. This past, year a player who had been with the Wahoos stopped by to say hello. This player is now a scout for the Reds.

— Be helpful. If the person will leave, offer to help them in a job search. It is a great service to provide outplacement services.

Letting someone go is tough. Letting someone go who has a great attitude is much tougher. However, it often must happen. Taking time to do it in a value-driven manner is critical. The employees who remain will appreciate the manner in which the person is treated.