Probation Employees

Dear Management Doctor:

We hired an employee who is on a six-month probation period, and have discovered his experience is not what he presented in his resume and interview. As a result, we are doing a lot of on-the-job training and it is sucking up a lot of staff time. I'd like to do a bloodless termination. Any thoughts?

Training Sucks

Dear Training Sucks,

Government managers continually tell me how hard it is to fire government employees. Some even say it is impossible. Therefore, you need to take full advantage of the probationary period. The approach here is simple, WHEN IN DOUBT - OUT. The new best selling book, From Good To Great, says you first need to get the right people on your bus, then you get the wrong people off the bus, and then you get the people in the right seats on the bus.

As a general principle, I'd rather keep a position vacant and use contract help rather than have a non- productive employee in the position. There, of course, are exceptions to any rule. If you are in a location where it is very difficult to find good employees and likewise good consultants are hard to find, you might then decide to invest more heavily in training.

If you decide to terminate the probationary employee, you could still do it by using the "bloodless termination." Some of our readers may not be familiar with that term. It is basically a three-step process where all three steps are laid out at once. First, agree on the problem. Note, this is not the manager telling the employee what the problem is. This is the manager and the employee agreeing on the problem. Second, agree on the solution to the problem. Third, agree on the consequences of not solving the problem. This is called a bloodless termination, because, if you can get the agreement and the employee is not improving, he/she often will terminate him/herself.

Incidentally, your story suggests another caution for managers. When an employee fails, whose fault is it? It is the manager's fault. In your case, unless the employee out right lied (which is grounds for immediate termination), you did an inadequate screening job or a poor job orientation. But don't be too hard on yourself, this is tough work.

Good luck,

The Management Doctor

Reader Responses

Contract help is okay if all you need is a warm body or someone to do a specific study, but even a contract planner requires investment in training to bring them up to speed on what's happening in your corner of the universe if you expect them to work on day to day projects. The best bet is to terminate the under performer and hire someone who really meets the expectations of the job.

Pat Cecil
City of Grand Junction, CO

I was heartened to see that you recognized that it may not completely be the employee's fault. Sometimes the job you hired into turns out to be something different than expected - or later there is the famous "reorganization" when someone leaves, and you are placed in a position you don't desire.

I took your class in February in Portland OR. I love your bus analogy and the bloodless termination - which I think is very fair. Unfortunately when it gets to that point, likely is too late to change the ultimate outcome, - the die is cast as they say, but at least unsaid expectations may come to light and it gives the poor employee a heads up. The earlier the better for both parties. Why there is impossibility of letting someone go during probation is interesting. Probation typically sets up the easy out. He shouldn't need a bloodless termination, just a better HR backup.

I shared your bus/termination concepts with my husband who, as CFO for various small start-up companies, has often acted as the HR person because no one else has the guts to do it. He thought it was a humane approach and easy to understand.

Janet Morris

I agree wholeheartedly with the advice. One of the critical requirements of management is developing staff and the only way that can occur is to have a rigorous hiring process. All aspects of the job's requirements should be tested; it may take a longer time to hire, but it's better than finding out inadequacies during the probationary period and having to fire the employee, then going through the process again. Staff are the most valuable investment that private and public organizations make, that investment starts with the persons who are eventually hired.

Michael A. Harper, AICP
Washoe County Community Development Department

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