New-Employee Rehabilitation

Got a new hire who's not quite living up to expectation? Here's what you need to do.

Kate Zabriskie
Kate Zabriskie

Finding employees is not easy these days. Case in point, just a week or two before spring, a landscape contractor from down south lamented, "I have fired more people in the last two years than ever before; some drug-related and others who just can't get it." A dealer recently told us, "I'd like to open another store but don't know if I can find good people to run it." This is why so many company owners jump for joy when they have an opportunity to hire an experienced, seemingly reliable person away from one of their competitors.

Just because you hire someone with experience does not mean they are going to hit it out of the park for you, though. While it's great that they already have the skills to do their job, they also have to possess the right attitude to work in your company.

"This is what I like to call branded service," says Kate Zabriskie, a career coach and HR expert. You tell the employee that there is an (insert your company name) way of doing things. "We're not telling you that the way you've been doing things is wrong, it's just that there is a certain way we do things around here." Zabriskie adds.

Discuss this with the potential new hire right away during the first interview. Doing so can help weed out people who might have a hard time adapting. One thing you could say to the applicant is: We're very specific here as to how we operate, and we have very specific processes that are unique to our business. How flexible are you in terms of learning new processes?

Another thing you could say during the interview is: Tell me about a time when you were asked to do something a certain way when you knew you had a more efficient way of getting it done. "If the applicant says something like, 'Well I just did it the way I wanted to do it,' you're probably going to run into a problem with this employee somewhere down the road," Zabriskie says.

Don't look the other way

Let's face it, no matter how hard you try, there's a pretty good chance you'll end up hiring a new employee from time to time who does not live up to expectation. Sometimes it's a skills deficiency, in which case a little more training can hopefully rectify. Other times, though, it ties back to attitude. Regardless, you want to address any issues as soon as possible.

Zabriskie relates, "If something isn't being done right, you can say privately to the employee, 'I saw what you did here, and I just want to make sure you understand how we like for it to be done. Why don't we do a little more training to make sure?'"

In an ideal world, Zabriskie adds, you're going to partner that new employee with a mentor. In a landscape company, that's probably going to be the crew foreman. In an equipment dealership, it might be a veteran technician. Whatever the case, the mentor is monitoring the new hire's behavior—and should be instructed to provide you with updates and report any concerns immediately.

"If it's not working out with a new employee, for whatever reason, you can tie it back to that first interview when you'd made it quite clear what the expectation was," Zabriskie says. "Now we need to figure out if you're just not sure how we do it, or if you simply do not want to do it our way. That makes a big difference, because if the new employee is choosing to not do it your way, they really shouldn't be working at your company in the first place."