Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Playing with lives... don't be evil

This last summer, I blogged here about dealing with staffing issues. Part of the discussion was about dealing with your lower players, putting them on performance improvement plans, and trying to bring them back from the termination precipice.

Obviously, making the decision to terminate someone is a big decision for you. You have time and money invested in this guy, and replacing him is very time consuming and expensive in itself. And there's no guarantee that his replacement (once he's hired, comes on board, gets trained, and gets up to speed) will outperform him anyway. So you're going to do your very best to turn this guy around and save the aggravation. Make things easier and cheaper on yourself. It's in your best interest. You. Yes, you.

Oh wait, there's another human being involved here. Really, where? Uh, the guy you're about to terminate. Maybe we should consider something about him in the equation? You're messing with this guy's life, after all.

But wait again, this is a business! Don't you the manager need to do whatever is best for the business in every case? If he's not carrying his weight, doesn't he have to be let go? Yes, absolutely. Ultimately, you need to do what's best for the business. Of course, as stated, turning someone around can be what is best for the business, but failing that, well, poof.

But have you taken all the right steps leading up to the poofing? I'm not talking about what will cover your butt legally. Have you truly been giving this guy the right mentoring, correction, punishment, notice, help, whatever you want to call it?

Ask yourself this... is his being terminated going to surprise him? If the answer is "yes", you've done something wrong. By the time someone needs to be poofed, they need to see it coming. He's had plenty of talks, "needs improvement" reviews, scoldings, whatever. He knows he's underperforming, he knows he's been given direction to improve, and he knows that he hasn't done so. Having the final talk with you and HR is not really unexpected.

Even for folks you have been frustratingly unable to turn around, you owe it to them to be able to answer the "will he be surprised?" questions with a "no" before proceeding. And even if the termination is the result of a singular, massive screw-up, would the oncoming termination be surprising? Use the answer to this question as your threshold.

So, that covers folks on the way out. What about on the way in? In my mind, you have an even greater responsibility prior to hiring someone. More on that next time...

Thursday, November 14, 2013

But that guy knows EVERYTHING... we can't fire him!

When in management, you'll find a fairly constant flow of team members requiring performance management. Hopefully not a big flow -- maybe more like a trickle if you’re lucky. Once in a while, the targeted employee will be someone with what someone considers to be, “one of the greatest minds on this planet,” or, “the only guy we have who knows how the whole system works.” Just because someone has a high I.Q., has been with the company since the dawn of time, or is seen as the only irreplaceable part of the whole, that is no reason to excuse them from performance correction when needed.

People like this who also possess the right attitude will take your mentoring and correction efforts to heart, and you will measurably increase their overall affect on the company. But, once in a while, Bob will feel a little bit above the rest of the crowd, and maybe a tad above your attempts to help him see that there are some ways for him to improve himself. If Bob’s problems are fairly minor, your need to succeed is somewhat diminished as Bob is probably still contributing at a much higher level than most others.

But, if Bob’s problems are major, if he’s subverting processes, if he’s interfering with other people’s work, if he’s being downright disruptive and counterproductive, then you really have no choice but to help him improve. Ultimately, if you are less than successful, you are going to need to make an incredibly tough decision. Do you let Bob go and say goodbye to maybe the only guy you have who knows how all the system pieces fit together? Or do you hang onto him and deal with all of his detractions and distractions? Surely you can eventually fix him, right?

In coming across this situation a few times in my own experiences, I must admit to taking the latter course most of the time. I will also confess that this has always been a mistake. In those instances where I wasn’t able to obtain improvement fairly quickly, I have never been successful in getting it farther down the line either. Eventually, I was forced to make the tough call that I should have made earlier.

And here was the interesting thing that happened when I finally did pull the proverbial trigger. Folks were coming out of the woodwork to thank me. Usually, the depth of Bob’s actual disruptiveness was not fully apparent to me. Once he was actually off the team, that’s when the full picture started to emerge. Story after story about how he slowed things down, was disruptive, or generally undermined team productivity. Wow. In addition, no matter how much you think Bob is the only one who is familiar with the whole system, in reality, this is completely bogus. Each time a Bob has departed, many others have stepped forward who clearly had at least a reasonable ability to fill in for his skills. And these folks were thrilled to have the opportunity to step up and show what they could do.

Ultimately, I was always proven wrong to have waited so long to make the tough decision on Bob. The benefits of eliminating all the Bob-oriented trouble, combined with the ability of others to eagerly fill the gaps, all added up to far more than any possible downside from losing Bob. And, another side benefit to this is showing everyone that you are not afraid to make the difficult decision. You’re also saying that nobody on the team is exempt from following appropriate processes and behaviors, simply because he happens to have been around a while, or merely because he’s chosen to keep some information very close to his own chest.

By the way, why not rectify that "tribal knowledge" problem before it actually becomes an issue? Work with your team to identify the potential trouble spots and start cross training as much as practical.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Solar... how did we do?

Some of you will recall that we switched onto a new SOLAR program provided by our electric company. If you don't remember it, you can read the posting here.

Jumping into the new program was a birthday present for my wife and, as we just celebrated another birthday for her, reminded me that we had now been on the solar program for a year. How did we do? Did the advertised stats live up to reality?

Before I jump to the comparison, I'll also throw in that we did get to have a tour of the facility a couple of months ago. Very impressive. It sits on a 144 acres and generates 20 MEGAwatts of power from 66,000 panels. The panels are on motors that keep them pointed directly towards the sun throughout the day.


So, what were the results? We were told that over the course of one year, about 25% of our total energy usage would come from the solar system, and that the annual cost for electricity would go up about $75.

In reality, amazingly, the 25% figure was EXACTLY correct. Okay, well it was 25.16%, but who's counting? Some months were down below 20%. But a couple (April and May) were very close to 50%. That's half of everything in our house (including 2 A/C units) effectively being powered by the sun!

And the cost... well, we were massively lied to. Our bills over the last year ended up being $85.69 bigger than if we had gone on the program. I'm suing for the extra $10.69.

What about the benefits to the environment? Well, frankly, I don't really know. I don't think anyone can. It's nice to think about not having burned extra fossil fuel or been a factor in creating more nuclear fuel rod waste to be stored deep under Las Vegas. But then again, how much energy was used or environmental impact came from creating the panels, shipping them from Europe or Asia or wherever they were made, clearing the land for them, installing them, maintaining them, etc...? And what are the environmental effects when they need to be disposed of in a decade or two? At least solar panels don't kill birds like windmills do.

I think I'll just stick with the simplistic view that it's probably a better thing to take advantage of the 12 TRILLION watt-hours that the sun drops on every square mile of the earth every year. And as more folks like us are willing to invest a few bucks, the technology will continue to improve until maybe the cost/benefit equations swing in favor of renewables. Here's to hoping!