Q. I have an employee that I need to fire. He has done things like cuss me out at the top of his lungs in front of the entire company. Unfortunately, he is the only one in the company who knows how to do his job, so I don’t feel like I can let him go. Do you have any suggestions?
A. Losing an employee with a valuable skill set is a setback. However, letting an employee get away with being publically disrespectful will undermine your ability to manage your business and almost certainly be worse in the long run. Or advice is to terminate the disrespectful employee. It may not be easy, but everyone is replaceable. Below are five tips that may help.
1. Use short-term coverage tactics – What have you done when the problem employee is on vacation or out sick? Use these tactics to cover for your employee when he is gone. This may not be a long-term solution, but it will buy you some time.
2. Throw resources at the problem – Can you or someone in your organization figure out how to do the job? It may take twice as long initially, but you will master the task. Working nights and weekends or paying overtime for a few weeks may not be desirable, but it can help you bridge the gap.
3. Enlist former employees – If someone else in your organization has done this job, the answer to your problem is self-evident. If not, but there is a former employee who has done this job, enlist his/her services. Do what it takes to get this person to train you or another employee. It may mean working nights and weekends. It may mean paying twice the normal rate for a while, but if may be worth it to solve your dilemma.
4. Find someone with the same skill set – Chances are the problem employee is not the only person in the world who has this skill set. Do other companies use the same equipment or software? Hire a new employee who has the necessary skill set. At a minimum, hire a consultant with the skill set to teach you or another employee how to do the job. Again, even if you have to work off hours and pay high prices, it may be money well spent.
5. Approach vendors for help – If the problem is operating a specific piece of equipment or software, approach the company that sold it to you. The vendor may be able to provide training. You might be able to hire one of the vendor’s employees to help train the replacement. At a minimum, the vendor may be able to point you in the direction of someone who could do the job.
Once you have solved this short term problem, don’t repeat the mistake. Make sure that you cross train someone in your organization on every job. This may require you to document the tasks your organization does and keep records on who is qualified to do which job.
Document your processes. In addition to having people who are cross trained, write down the specific steps required to do every job in your organization. Documenting processes isn’t sexy and no one is going to pay you a nickel more because you have done it, but there are several major advantages to doing this work. First, it will protect you from being held hostage by a problem employee again. As your company grows, it is how you will communicate the way you want things done to your employees. Documenting processes ensures that things are done consistently across your organization. Finally, it provides a basis for continuous improvement. Propagating improved techniques across an organization is much easier if everyone is doing a job in the same way.
We’ve seen many small businesses held hostage by a problem employee. Our advice is to bite the bullet and do what you know is the right thing to do. The tips above will help. Once you have weathered this storm, make sure that you are never in this position again by cross training employees and documenting processes.