Terminating employees and finding customers

Departments - Ask the Experts

ASK THE EXPERTS is presented in partnership with PLANET’s Trailblazers On Call program. Trailblazers are industry leaders who volunteer their time and expertise to give back to the industry. Have a question for the experts? Send it to llexperts@gie.net.

February 21, 2011

Q: We are having problems with an employee who after 14 months has never fully performed his job. His supervisor wants to terminate him as quickly as possible, but he knows there is a disciplinary process we should go through. What is the proper process to follow before terminating an employee?

There is a proper process to follow for terminations, but that process is not about discipline, and it’s not designed for termination. It’s about gaining the performance you want, and it’s designed to produce an employee you very much want to keep. It’s called a Performance Improvement Program (PIP), and it works like this:

  1. Identify an employee who is not performing his or her job the way you want.
  2. Discuss with that employee what he is doing right/wrong. Let him know what you want him to stop/start doing. The process should be about respect, training, guidance and support and a desire to gain the job performance you want, not about discipline or punishment.
  3. Give him the opportunity to achieve the level of performance indicated. Provide him with some oversight, advice and feedback, along with time and regular, supportive guidance.
  4. If, after reasonable effort and time, the employee is not improving or is not being receptive to your efforts, review with him the entire issue and your efforts to date in writing, letting him know what, if any, progress is occurring with the employee.In this document, make him aware of your continued desire to achieve the performance needed and of your support, but also make him aware of the consequences, including the possibility of termination, if he cannot or does not achieve the desired results.
  5. If, after this additional opportunity, there is no improvement in the employee’s job performance, then termination is in order.
Help the supervisor to understand that it’s not difficult for an employee to file a wrongful termination suit or an EEOC (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) complaint. He may truly feel that he was not treated fairly or that you are discriminating against him. The majority of American employees today are part of some protected class. Is this employee female, minority, disabled, over 40, a veteran, of foreign birth, dark skinned, openly religious, gay, or does the employee have medical problems? Each one of these classes may provide the employee with an opportunity to tell his or her story to a hearing committee, a judge, and/or a jury.

What these parties want to see is that the employee was not doing his job properly or was made aware of that fact. In addition, that the employee was given opportunities to achieve the desired performance and was made aware of the consequences if he did not, and, only after all those actions were fruitless, was he terminated.

What you want to demonstrate to them and to incorporate in your company is that the goal is not to terminate but to gain the performance you need.

Again, you want a performance improvement program, not a disciplinary process. 

Bill Cook, Human Resource Associates
PLANET HR Consultant

Q: I want to ensure I both retain my current customers for the next landscaping season and grow my business. What should I be doing now during the off-season?

A: First, remember that there is no “off-season” in the world of being self employed. Opportunity will present itself all the time if you begin to look for it. I once met one of my best customers while pumping fuel at a gas station. My truck had the company name and he asked about it.

Now is the time to renew your current customers, which will leave you with more time to work on obtaining new ones in the spring.

Start early. We start selling lawn care in December, and we start selling snow services in July. This also gives the staff time to build a relationship prior to presenting price.
Study your numbers closely. Can you offer to hold the price, or possibly give a 1 percent reduction if they sign now?

Too often, companies take a break at the end of season, which then allows your competition to get a good jump start on taking your customers. Every business has a certain amount of attrition each year. However, by renewing early when you have just finished the fall cleanup and the customer is happy with your work this season, you allow your staff or yourself more time to concentrate on going after new work. We all know it is easier to retain a customer than to find a new one.

The best results will be achieved if you always start a plan with the end in mind. Look at your company. What is your current capacity to take on more work? Will you need to purchase anything or hire more people? Ask yourself, “Can we afford to grow?” This is a tough question, but definitely one that needs to be answered.

There are numerous business owners that grew too fast and eventually imploded. You must have a plan in place, and then work the plan. If you are not comfortable with creating a business or strategic plan, then look into hiring a consultant or taking part in a mentor program through a trade association, such as PLANET. There is no reason to reinvent the wheel as there are many options available today to help businesses succeed.

Rich Arlington Ill, president of Arlington Lawncare and
Rich Arlington & Associates
Erie, Pa.