Sometimes change is necessary to make your company better.

Photo credit: © Hamilton

It’s never pleasant to discipline someone, let alone fire him. That’s why it’s so common for an owner to avoid the issue altogether and absorb the failures until they explode.

This unwillingness to correct bad behaviors as they occur in a disciplined and consistent manner creates unhappy customers who receive poor service and disgruntled staff members who have to pull the extra load. This all eventually will eat away at the owner’s physical and fiscal health.

One client I worked with years ago had one “star performer” whose sales numbers blew away the rest of the techs. Now, I applaud great talent that gets great results, but I also tend to be cynical (go figure an ex-New Yorker being cynical!) when it’s so much of a discrepancy.

I challenged the owner and his management team to do some ride-alongs and mystery shopping to find out how these exceptional sales numbers were being achieved. And I asked them to start tracking this tech’s callback ratio. Callback ratio is simply how many calls generate a callback for any legitimate reason such as price complaint, leaving a mess or just not fixing the problem within 30 days of the call.

I was persistent in pressing the point because I was sniffing out from the other techs who would confide in me that this guy wasn’t playing by the same rules they were.

Sure enough, to their dismay, the owners soon found out he was, in fact, selling repairs that weren’t needed or even ethical. His work was sloppy and generated callbacks other techs had to mop up.

When confronted with the overwhelming evidence, the management let this tech go and expected sales to plummet. Funny thing is, the company proceeded to have three successive months of breakout sales that blew away the past company performance.

How can that be?

The answer is the rest of the techs finally felt the company was being accountable and they picked up the slack and rewarded the company and themselves.

So, what poor performers are you turning a blind eye to?

Sometimes, you wait, you talk to them, you say nothing until you finally have your fill and pull the trigger. The bad news is you could be looking at a wrongful termination if you haven’t built up your case. This applies whether you’re a union shop or not. It’s actually easier to fire at a union shop if you’ve been documenting your case.

How To Prepare Yourself

What every shop needs are written steps of discipline that can be enforced each time with each person at the company. The goal is to find employees going astray faster and get them back on track with coaching.

The only exception is if an employee lies, cheats or steals and it can be proven. There are no steps of discipline but to terminate him or her.

Once you commit to this policy of consistency and fairness, the whole process goes better and your staff will come to enjoy working at your company because they know the rules of the game apply to everyone.

I implemented the steps of discipline at my own company, which was and continues to be a union shop. We got so good at being fair, judging on objective evidence and training, that one day the company’s shop steward (this is a top tech who represents the other union staff members at the company) came to me and said, “The way I see it we don’t fire anybody anymore based on our clear communications, our steps of discipline and our willingness to train. They just choose not to work here anymore!”

Can you believe that?

Where you need to start to change your company culture is with the willingness to discipline someone based on clear, written and objective measurements such as: a lack of sales for a tech or a salesperson based upon a known sales goal; excessive callbacks for a tech that have been verified; recordings or observations of CSRs who fail to use scripts they’re trained on; or a bookkeeper who continues to make mistakes on accounts payable and/or accounts receivable work.

Before you consider terminating employees, decide how many corrective actions they may have in a quarter so they don’t pick a different thing in the manuals or in their jobs to screw up on.

You must also decide what offenses would result in an immediate suspension or dismissal. Examples would be threatening behavior, violation of your drug or alcohol policy and loss of driver’s license.

Here are four steps of discipline I teach my clients:

  • Step 1: A private discussion using written documents such as the manual and a letter in the file. Tell them all’s forgiven this time and let them know the upcoming steps if the behavior continues.

  • Step 2: Write up a corrective action document referring to any written policies and procedures that were not complied with. This also can include digital photos or a letter from a customer that expresses poor customer service. Let them know the next steps if behavior continues.

  • Step 3: A suspension of one to two days with no pay and a sign-off that they know the next occurrence will result in immediate termination.

  • Step  4: Dismissal. Follow the written guidelines for dismissing an employee.

  • This would be a good thing to include in your employer-employee manual, but you should have it reviewed by your labor lawyer.

    Do this and you’ll improve your company by actually getting rid of someone who needed to go help your competitors!