When It's Time to Replace an Employee...or Go Clamming

                  Mo's clam chowder.

                  Mo's clam chowder.

Yesterday’s post should have been titled “Happy as a Clam…” but those who are clam-like are hiding. They’re just waiting for the tide to move them on – or until someone skilled in spotting the tell-tale signs, equipped with a clam shovel, to dig ‘em up.

But just like when you go clamming, you have to include some cleanup.

What I mean is when you uncover that clam in your agency or department; you’ll most likely need to do the cleanup yourself.

That happened to me.

I was promoted to a position managing seven individuals who had varying levels of responsibility. One person had a very specific job, and she was the only one who performed it in our company.

I met with my new team, laid out goals and asked for their input on what a day in their work life looked like. I wanted to hear everything. I then met with each person individually.

Except for that one person. She was way too busy. Her desk was a wreck (think Milton’s desk in Office Space), and when I finally sat down and insisted that she give me the three-minute description of her job and challenges – she couldn’t.

I checked out her employee file and read her annual reviews. She consistently under-performed, was given specific goals which were never met, and was handed-off from manager to manager. In seven years she managed to keep her job – because no one wanted to take on figuring out what she did, or ways to correct it. She didn’t have the skills – or drive – to make changes herself. Neither did her past managers.

The biggest issue was that she had a position where significant amounts of money passed over her desk. Every month. We’re talking easily a million dollars a month. She had no system for tracking it, she just requested checks, sent them to her (one) vendor, then collected receipts, and said everything “checked-out fine”.

My concern was that she had no checks and balances for ensuring all monies were reconciled, and that she relied on one vendor to provide all receipts. Everything was accepted as accurate.

Further, an accounting had been requested from her for every year of those seven years. She never complied, and there were no consequences for failure to perform.

I finally planted myself at her desk and had her show me exactly what she did and documented it. Then provided her with what I needed from her, gave her a simple spreadsheet – a way to track outgoing cash and incoming receipts. She didn’t use it. She was too busy. We went through the required standard verbal and written warnings, and yet nothing changed. She had learned there were no consequences.

I gave her every opportunity to make it right, and even offered to dig in and help. She said she was was too busy to have me help.

She was stunned when I let her go. 

Surprisingly, the vendor was unwilling to work with me to clean up the mess. They told me, “Everything was working just fine.”  I’m sure it was, but I couldn't follow the money. The vendor was fired. They too were stunned, as my company represented a big portion of their business.

I don’t believe there was anything going on other than a client and a vendor with extremely sloppy business practices. But I had to fix it.

Therein lies the problem. When you let someone go who is under-performing,  you may end up doing the work yourself.

Which is exactly what I did.

It took me six months and a temp to clear up seven full years of…zero accounting.

I didn't replace this gal. I didn't have to. Instead, I distributed the duties to each of the remaining staff – which was more appropriate since it actually closed the loop in their duties.

The lesson here is:
Once again, have a good process in place – one that is documented
Make sure your staff knows their job and that there are clear job descriptions
Watch out for clams – there may be more than one
Once you dig up your clams, prepare to do clean up

And by the way, here’s a a lovely little article about clamming in Oregon. And if you happen to make it to the Oregon coast, be sure to check out Mo’s for clam chowder.