Workplace Culture

Know When to Fish and When to Cut Bait

By Staff Report

Jun. 11, 2012

I spent last week on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. If you’ve never been there, do yourself a favor a take a trip. It’s about as perfect of a vacation spot you can find in the continental 48 (see sunset below).

On the last day of our vacation, my family took a dolphin cruise through the Calibogue Sound. It was a hands-on trip for the kids. They got to cast a fishing net, pull up a crab pot, and fish for shark. The ship’s captain told us that they usually catch a lot of shark.

For example, the day earlier they had reeled in 19, including two baby hammerheads. So, it was with much excitement that my daughter cast her line into the sound. After about five minutes (an eternity for a 6-year-old) she started asking when she would catch her shark. My wife explained that fishing is more about patience and relaxation than actually catching fish.

As you would imagine, that did not go over so well with my newly minted first-grader, although she did stick with it and enjoyed the experience. We, however, were not the only ones having issues.

The captain moved the boat to what he hoped would be more fertile water. It wasn’t. She moved again, hoping the third time would be the charm. It wasn’t, and she had to call it a day. Indeed, on our cruise, only one shark was reeled in (by the boy next to us, much to my daughter’s chagrin).

As I am wont to do when I am not blogging, I began to think about what this tale could teach you, my readers. Much like fishing, in dealing with marginally performing workers, employers must know when to fish and when to call it a day. And, much like our ship’s captain, you usually don’t quit at the first sign of failure.

Employees are investments—of time, training, salary and benefits. Unless an employee commits an egregious violation of the rules that cannot be tolerated, most deserve multiple chances to prove themselves worthy.

Performance problems are not terminable offenses; they are teaching opportunities. Use them to hone your employees, and only terminate when an employee proves himself or herself un-teachable. You will be surprised how many employees you can rehabilitate (and investments you can save) merely by resisting the urge to cut bait too early on your marginal performers.

I’ll miss experiencing the sunsets at Harbour Town, but I’m happy to be home, and, believe it or not, happy to be back at work.

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