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Tough Call: Managing an Underperformer

Many people spend their entire adult lives trying to figure out what they want to do when they grow up. You were lucky. After landing a part-time job at a local lumberyard during college, you were hooked, and you set your sights on building a career in the LBM industry. The owner, wisely, recognized your drive and determination, and offered you a full-time position. Twenty-years later, as you run the company’s day-to-day operations, you appreciate being part of an industry that isn’t going anywhere—and that truly makes a difference in people’s lives. 

The past two decades have had no shortage of challenges, including the ever-present problem of attracting, hiring, and retaining good people. Post-Covid, managing new hires seems to have changed—and you’re not sure what to do about it.

Tim, an able and personable young pro, is an excellent example. He worked for your company part-time during high school and was well-liked by customers and coworkers. He reminded you of the younger version of yourself—with a solid work ethic and a real desire to learn the business. After earning a degree in construction management from a local college in 2022, you didn’t hesitate to offer him a position.

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The problems started soon after he came onboard full-time. The young man who had always been punctual began arriving a few minutes late. When you let him know how
important it is to show up on time, he apologized and said he’d do better. Which he did consistently for a few weeks,
before the chronic lateness returned. Then he started asking to leave a little early. He always had a good reason, and you assumed he was getting his work done, so you said sure.

As it turned out, he hadn’t been getting his work done. He’s well-liked by his coworkers, so they were covering for him. But they were tired of it. Tim is a nice young man, and he’s got a solid history with you, so you want it to work. You’re not sure if it’s a post-Covid thing, as some other business-owner friends have discussed, or if he’s not ready for the responsibilities of full-time employment. What would you do?

Give him time. He’s new to the world of full-time work, so cut him some slack. Once he realizes that he’s letting his coworkers down, he’ll step up his game.

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Reinforce the rules. Sit down with Tim and go over the attendance policies and what’s expected of him. Make sure he understands it and is willing to commit to it.

Adjust to fit. If full-time isn’t working, sit down and discuss a schedule and workload that he can manage and that also works for your company.

Probation. Let him know that he’s falling short of your expectations and give him 60 days to be the team member you both know he can be, or he’ll be done.

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What would you do?

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