September 15, 2012
By Jacki Hart CLP
Prosperity Partners program manager

Jacki HartEarlier this summer I wrote about the current reality trend of communicating with our clients to conduct business on their turf. This is being done more and more via the Internet.

I’ve had some great feedback to that article. Some agree that electronic communication of images and information has simplified their business, while others have their heels dug firmly in the ground, refusing to change their style.

One interesting thread from the feedback I received, leads me to this article: the challenge of dismissing a wrong-fit key employee.

When I look back through the changes I’ve made over the past 20-plus years in my business, it’s a very long list. But equally as long, if not longer, are the changes that I didn’t make in my business, which hindsight has shown to be expensive mistakes. I refer to decisions that one just doesn’t have time for, or we avoid like the plague. The most common one for me has always been my reluctance to fire a key employee.

It’s very common with small business entrepreneurs to avoid letting people go. I have often heard clients from my consulting business say, “I can’t afford to lose this person.” Well, that’s where hard management decisions must come into play, and over-ride the personalities, old habits and fear. The hard reality is that you simply can’t afford to keep him or her.

Many times in Congress seminars and Prosperity Partners sessions when the topic of the costs of due diligence and training staff comes up, I’m asked, “What if I train them and they leave?” My answer, “What if you don’t train them and they stay?”

The same holds true for key employees who have either become obsolete in their workstyle, or complacent in their role. Regardless of the reason, over the years people and circumstances change. So do businesses, and their need to perform in current reality. You simply cannot afford to have tight pricing in today’s market, and let the wrong people stay on your team.

And stay they will. In this economy, who wouldn’t stay in a job where they are permitted to be lackadaisical about systems, safety and attendance? Who wouldn’t stay in a comfy job where they get to do as they please? Many employers turn a blind eye (myself included at times) when staff members aren’t fully engaged in the company culture, or are minimally productive.

In many cases, it’s becoming more commonplace to have staff who are in some way self-entitled toward attendance, hours of work, vacation time and not going the extra mile when the pressure to complete work is on, but it doesn’t suit them.

Finding a way to hold people accountable to their contract can be difficult on a day-to-day basis. It’s even harder to do if you never complete a written performance review. It’s impossible if there is no written contract, or a proper written job description, which includes accountabilities and a company handbook outlining culture and rules.

It later becomes really hard to fire someone, or move them through a disciplinary process of verbal and subsequent written warnings if a clear definition of what’s expected doesn’t exist in the first place. This is compounded if there’s an absence of written feedback on areas to improve in job performance. Few of us take the time to bother. Those who don’t bother, usually end up dealing with way more headaches and wrongful dismissal and Employment Standards Act cases.

The single most expensive cost to my business has always been my employees. Spend money inefficiently on staff, and it will bring your company to its knees in very short order.

I can’t begin to describe how unbelievably refreshing and beneficial it has always been to my staff and their productivity to fire a bad-fit person. Some times I’ve delayed that move for months. On one occasion, it took years, as I believed we couldn’t do without that person. I can tell you for sure, that the moment they were gone was like lifting a heavy blanket off everyone’s shoulders. This was experienced at all levels.

A toxic energy gathers around wrong-fit people. It creates tension; keeping them in your midst is like ignoring a festering wound. Firing a wrong-fit person is the single most positive change you can make in a business. And, believe me it’s absolutely the most difficult.

Ask yourself if you have any wrong-fit people working for you. Is there anyone who constantly goes against the grain, who regularly has to be monitored, or corrected, or who has a poor attendance record? Even worse, is the one who even the boss doesn’t challenge for their productivity or decision making.

All of these problems end up letting others down, delay your deadlines, negatively impact productivity and generally disrupt the flow of work for the week. Whether retail, nursery, construction, installation (i.e. irrigation, lighting, etc.) or maintenance (including interior and snow), having one or more wrong-fit key employees in your midst is absolutely having a negative impact on your business. And, it’s sending a message to others that it’s acceptable.

If it’s been nagging at you in business, we have resources to help you. Maybe this winter is the time to make this important change in your business system and team. For some helpful tools for managing your human resources, visit the Prosperity Partners Template Library at
Jacki Hart may be contacted at