The person delivering salt for our water softener recently left three 40 lb. bags in the middle of our front steps, blocking the entrance to our home. Did we complain? No, because we know that Culligan probably wouldn’t be able to find anyone to replace him if he was fired.  The current employee crisis has led many businesses to be reluctant to let anyone go, no matter how poorly they do their job. But that doesn’t mean that we need to ignore performance problems.

It’s obviously more efficient to keep an employee you have hired and trained than to find a new one, especially in today’s market. And it’s also easier for an employee to stay in their current job than to go looking for a new one. So dealing with whatever issues come up is in everyone’s best interest.

There are some behaviors that cannot be forgiven: stealing, lying, abuse, violence or sexual harassment. We spell these out in our employee handbook as being reasons for immediate dismissal, and possible police involvement. But what about lesser problems, such as tardiness?

In general, I think that when a behavior  – other than the ones above – happens just once, it can be overlooked. It becomes a problem that needs to be dealt with when repeated.   If that happens, we ask the employee to meet with us in private, and use a Job Performance Improvement form, on p. 256 of the latest edition of Specialty Shop Retailing, to create a record of the conversation. (Although it’s never come to this in our store, documentation is important if you ever need to let someone go.)

This form has a place to write down what the behavior is, and why it is a problem. Your employee may not have thought about the impact their tardiness has on their fellow staff members, for example.  An employee who doesn’t regularly greet those entering the store may not realize that an increase in shoplifting can result from to a lack of friendly customer service.

We try to keep the conference positive, pointing out the person’s strengths in other areas. At the end of the meeting, a date is set for followup. If the agreed-upon improvement hasn’t been made by then, another agreement goal is set. Usually this one will state that after three strikes, they’re out. But we hope it will not come to this, because we want the employee to succeed, and are willing to coach them towards a better performance. After a year, the Job Performance Improvement form is removed from their personnel file.

It’s actually been a while since we’ve needed to use this form, in part because we try to be clear about our expectations during employee training. We’re fortunate to have a team that has been working together for a long time – and no one knows that over the years, a few of their peers have kept their jobs by making a requested improvement.

Happy Retailing,
Carol “Orange” Schroeder