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Nosedive in performance

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Question: A four-year employee has taken a nosedive in her performance. It all came to light when another employee quit a year ago. So, this has been going on for one year.

She has made several serious mistakes, all of which she has an "answer" for.  Even when I showed her the mistakes in black and white, she just said "Hmmm. I don't know what happened."

I have had three serious reviews with her, threatened to have her use her one-week paid vacation to contemplate working here, told her flat out  that her job “is on the line.”

She is pleasant, almost too pleasant at work, never complains, but rarely accomplishes anything.
I need her position filled with a capable bookkeeper. She knows a lot about our particular business, so training someone new will be a long process. Our employee pool in our community is severely limited.

I need help making a final determination to keep her, reduce her hours or just cut my losses and move on.

I have a small bookkeeping company; the clients like continuity.  HELP!!!!  -- Shelley Weiser


This one is simple.

1. Make sure you have a procedure manual in place for all that she does. Make her a part of the process and make sure every duty is documented. This serves two purposes. Firstly, it will help you when you terminate her and secondly, she may feel empowered and more important with this new task. Set a deadline.

2. After this is done, review her work and put her on a documented verbal warning. Review with her what her mistakes have been, the fact that she is accountable for her work and that you need to see a marked improvement. Give it 30 days and review again.

3. If she is still not performing, issue a final written warning that says "up to and including termination" and don't give it an end date.

Sounds like this one needs to go.

It sounds as though the employee that quit a year ago may have been covering for this employee, may be the reason for quitting. Would you want the other employee working for you? Is that person available to rehire?
If you have documented every meeting you have had with the unproductive employee, you need to cut your losses, NOW.

Ordinarily I don't believe in letting people go especially in this economy but you have a business to run and you can't allow her mistakes to jeporadize your reputation and relationship with your clients. Put her on a performance improvement plan outlining the areas for improvement and then have weekly meetings with her to monitor her improvement. I agree with Susan to give her a procedures manual maybe she just doesn't fully understand her role. Also, I would consider hiring a part-time person to assist her. This serves two purposes, 1. this will help get the job done and 2. if you have to let her go you already have someone in place to take over her job. If after 3 months, for example, she still hasn't shown an improvement, you may have to let her go. Nice does not equal good employee and you have a business to run.

I have a couple of questions. You say this employee's poor performance first came to light when another employee left your employment. Has the problem employee taken on more responsibilities than she had before? Could her poor performance be the result of burnout which can create a lackadaisacal attitude toward work.

If the change in performance is not due to increased responsibilities, then I would suggest you use try working with HR to try to improve her performance through concrete directions on what you need her to improve on. If this does not succeed within a reasonable period of time, I would let her go and find a replacement.

As long as you have proper documentation of warnings to this employee, it's time to cut your losses--NOW. There are other options to your dilemna: temp agency, outsourcing (e.g., bookkeeping agency), for instance, will give you an opportunity to "try out" new people without a major commitment.

It also sounds like you might need a little assertiveness training (sorry!). Being a manager means making sure the interests of your company come first, which sometimes leads to having to make tough decisions quickly. Unfortunately, that also means sometimes you're being perceived as being not nice, which is part of the "turf."

Being part of management also means that you are no longer part of what used to be your peer group. That's really hard for some people who have the desire to be in management but also want to maintain their friendships with their former peers (which can't be done).

It sounds like you're on the right track, but it's hard to make the decision. It's time!

Was she doing good work before the other employee quit or did the person quit because he or she was tired of covering for her? If it is the latter, it's time to move on. However, if she was actually performing well, then something else might be wrong.

Do you have any way to refer her to counseling? Larger companies have employee assistance plans for this purpose. There may be some underlying problem in her life that has caused the sudden shift. If you try to find out, you may be sucked into problems beyond your ability to solve and then you may never be able to terminate her employment. Having a confidential outside counselor work with her may be a solution to restoring her performance. This approach leaves the responsibility on her shoulders to improve and you can continue with the progressive discipline approach that Susan recommends above.

I would suggest you make sure you have a complete written description of what and how she does her job duties. Then complete a written and final warning outlining your previous conversations with her, her lack of job performance, etc and make it perfectly clear that further mistakes will not be tolerated. If she continues, then stick to your written warning and terminate her position.

You may have a hard time re-training someone at first, but in the long run you will fair better than continuing working with this person to no avail.

Once she knows the importance of what you are saying, then her decisions will bring on her own consequences.

I agree with all of the comments provided by others, which give you concrete steps by which you can move forward. I especially agree with Bernie's comments regarding employee counseling. An employee whose performance takes a "sudden nosedive", who responds to direct confrontations with "Hmmmm. I don't know what happened", and who is "pleasant, almost too pleasant...never complains, but rarely accomplishes anything" sounds to me like an employee who may be suffering from depression. Obviously, it's difficult to make that assessment from the little information provided, and you need to do what is best for your company at this point, but if she was a valued employee at one time, counseling or other employee assistance might be helpful.

If you have kept proper records of verbal and written communication with this employee, and she still does not perform her functions to company standards, you almost have no choice but to let her go. Instead of spending valuable time monitoring and reprimanding her with no results, I suggest you network with your colleagues and local employment agencies to find a suitable replacement. Perhaps hire a temp on a probationary basis. The search for and training of a new employee may not seem productive, but it's better to spend your time heading in a more positive direction than to beat a dead horse.

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