Not Sure If You Should Save a Struggling New Hire? Ask Madeleine

Hi Madeleine,

I run a business where we manage large projects and serve customers all day long. I have a new hire who just isn’t working out. She is rude to customers and makes constant errors. She needs to have instructions repeated again and again and just can’t seem to retain anything.

Last week I told her that it is possible she is not suited for our business and she might be happier doing something else. I was as diplomatic as I know how to be. She insisted she loves it here and that this is what she wants to do. Then she went and told everyone that I think she is terrible and I hate her.

What a mess. What on earth do I do now?

Made a Mess

Dear Made a Mess,

I’m not sure you can salvage this situation—and even if you could, I’m not sure you should. You may be right that your employee is not suited to the role if she not only has the undesirable qualities you first mentioned but also gossips to anyone who will listen.

My first instinct is to advise you cut your losses and let her go.

My second, more kind instinct is to suggest you sit down with her to have the difficult conversation. Explain that you don’t hate her; in fact, you want to help her succeed and do a reset.

My third instinct is to let you know that in my 28 years of coaching, I have not once had a client regret letting go of an employee that was taking up the bulk of their waking hours. So there you go.

To avoid this kind of thing in the future, put some focus on business fundamentals.

Hiring: My experience and research shows that hiring is 90 percent of the battle in getting the right fit for the role. Attention to detail and service orientation are inborn traits that are hard—maybe impossible—to train to people who don’t have them. As they say, it is easier to hire a squirrel than to train a chicken to climb a tree. It sounds like you could use some behavioral interviewing techniques. Once you find a new employee who seems to be a good fit, start with a three-month trial before going to a full time contract. This will give both you and the new hire time to assess the job and culture fit.

Onboarding: When you find that you’re always repeating yourself, it may be best to use checklists or put step-by-step instructions in writing. Create a manual accessible for new employees to review. You will also want to state your values, in writing. For example, if it is not okay for employees to gossip, this should spelled out in your values.

Use Situational Leadership® II: Our flagship product at The Ken Blanchard Companies is essentially a prescription for foolproof performance management, in which a leader provides exactly what the employee needs to be successful at any task or goal. You can read more about it here. In your case, you would need to provide consistent and repeated clear direction to help your employee succeed. Perhaps you aren’t good at that—or maybe she just can’t or won’t follow directions. In any event, this is a very worthwhile leadership model to know about.

It sounds as if you have been flying by the seat of your pants when it comes to performance management up until now. You’ll avoid trouble like this again in the future if you put some processes and systems in place to protect yourself from time sinks and embarrassments moving forward.

Love, Madeleine

About the author

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

One thought on “Not Sure If You Should Save a Struggling New Hire? Ask Madeleine

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