Plucking Out the Prickly Pears

How to Find Good Employees - And Weed Out the Bad Ones

May 27, 2013

One bad apple can spoil the entire bunch. We’ve all experienced this firsthand.

As a business owner, the process of separating this sour grape from the rest of the team may prove to be the difference between a budding workforce and a clan of complainers that’s rotten to the core.

Identification, Please

As the father of a 2-year-old son, we buy a lot of fruit. His favorite treat, at this exact moment, is strawberries. While prepping a plateful, I recently uncovered one intruder masked in white, fuzzy mold. Unfortunately, the entire quart had to be thrown away. I couldn’t risk feeding my son a hazardous product; thus, no more strawberries, and, on a side note, this led to a much more hazardous result (See: screaming infant).

Unfortunately, in the business world, delinquents are not going to wear fuzzy mold or neon signs with arrows identifying themselves as weak links.

Perhaps the best way to eliminate potential punks from the organization is to end their employment before it ever begins. Creating a comprehensive interview process, complete with background and reference checks, may help reveal hidden character flaws. Ask the tough questions now so that you’re not questioning yourself later. A good question to start with is why did they leave their last job.

Also, it may be beneficial to monitor how the prospective employee interacts alongside his peers on a job site. If you’re hiring a tech, don’t be afraid to put him through an interim field test before you close the deal.

Rodman Rule

Even living in Detroit, I’ll ironically admit that no sports team has ever achieved greatness with a roster full of “Bad Boys.” Yes, the early ‘90s Detroit Pistons fostered a gang of ruffians under the moniker, but, despite being a bit rough around the edges, the team exhibited extraordinary work ethic and championship poise.

Debatably, the hardest worker on that team was an unheralded forward from Southeastern Oklahoma State named Dennis Rodman. The youthful Rodman was built on hustle, respect, and craved success. The multicolored hair, face piercings, and wedding-dress press conferences that attracted flashbulbs during the twilight of his career had yet to surface.

And, even during his later years, his employers tolerated his tattooed antics because, while on the clock, he performed.

Perhaps your team also boasts a Rodman, leaving you with the tough assignment of managing this gremlin. Thoroughly consider, is it worth it? Does the worker’s contributions outweigh his negative baggage? If the answer is not an astounding no, it may be pink-slip time.

And, if he is worth the gamble, there are several ways to go about disarming such a loose cannon. In some cases, isolation works. Working alone, the individual is left without a partner to cast his negative shadow. In other instances, teaming the individual up with a company leader —who can constantly remind the troublemaker that his employment is a privilege, not a necessity — is key. Other solutions include constant reporting to a service manager and the availability of incentives to reward good behavior and performance.

But, through all these arrangements, remember, the idea is to eliminate those that are detrimental to the team, not tinker with them until you find the right dose of sugarcoating. National unemployment is still hovering around 8 percent. It’s likely that a willing replacement is waiting in the wings.

No Foul Balls

Once you’ve welcomed a new team member to the fold, it’s important that they are clearly aware of what is expected of them, and that they play by the rules at all times.

A company that adopts a zero- or low-tolerance behavior policy typically has a much easier time eliminating problematic pieces. An ethics policy that clearly spells out what’s acceptable and unacceptable leaves little room for misinterpretation. Such a policy may also prevent unnecessary time in court, when one knucklehead claims he was eliminated unjustifiably.

Regardless how you deal with problematic team members, it’s important that your decisions remain definitive and consistent. Follow through on your threats. If you propose a consequence, make sure it is executed.

One individual’s moaning and groaning can easily grow contagious, leading a once productive staff down a poisonous path of adverse performance and productivity. Don’t let one bad apple ruin everything you’ve worked so hard to grow. When in doubt, take it out.

Publication date: 5/27/2013 

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