Tough Call: The case of the non-effective employee

A long-time employee’s performance declines as the years go on. What would you do?

When you took over as general manager of your company three years ago, you remember all-too-well what your mentor, the former GM, told you: “Managing the business is easy,” she said. “It’s managing people that’s tough.” You’re not sure you agree with her first statement, because you know first-hand that running a lumberyard is anything but easy, but you understand her second point. It’s true, some people can be a real challenge to manage. But from your experience, as long as people are respected, appreciated, and compensated fairly, then the rest takes care of itself.

Then there’s Joe.

Now in his 20th year with the company, Joe was onboard when you started. In fact, he’s one of the people who helped show you the ropes and get you acclimated to the company’s way of doing business and rules (both written and unwritten). He was a good guy— hard worker, well-liked and respected by his coworkers. A motivated and positive young man, Joe had a bright future with the company. Before introducing you to Joe, you remember the then-manager telling you, “this guy’s going places. Who knows, you may be working for him one day.”

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That’s not exactly how it worked out. Twenty years later, Joe is in the same role he was back then, and he reports directly to you. On the surface, he does the right things. But peer just beneath the surface and you see someone going through the motions. In a nutshell, Joe is unmotivated, unproductive and frankly, not an effective or valued member of your team.

Over the years, as your career has progressed, it’s as if Joe peaked and is now on the decline…or, at best, is coasting until he can retire. But as someone in his mid-forties, retirement is decades away.

You’ve tried sitting down and talking with him, to learn what you and the company can do to get him re-engaged.

You’ve tried working with him to set performance goals, with healthy rewards at the end. You’ve addressed his work in annual reviews, asking if he’s interested in learning any new skills, taking on fresh responsibilities, or working in a different part of the company. Nothing works. You’ve sought insights by talking with his coworkers, but they have nothing to say. As one colleague said, “He’s just kinda there.”

Meanwhile, Joe’s healthy compensation and benefits package grows slightly each year as his performance moves in the opposite direction. If he weren’t a long-term member of your team, you’d likely let him go. But he’s not a bad guy, he’s a family man with a wife and a son, and he’s one of the people who helped you when you first joined the company.

There are two others on your team who work hard, have great positive energy, and you’d love to help them reach their full potential with your company. Unfortunately, resources are limited, and there’s only so much payroll to go around. The easy answer, to let Joe go, isn’t as easy as it looks. What would you do?

1. Stick with Joe. Even if Joe hasn’t turned out to be the superstar he first appeared to be, he’s loyal, he comes to work every day, and he knows your company. Keep working with him.

2. Say “Bye, Joe.” As the company GM, your job is to do what’s best for the company. It’s clear that Joe isn’t helping your company grow. You owe it to the owners and to Joe’s coworkers to cut him loose.

3. Ultimatum. You’ve tried everything else, it’s time to tell Joe that considering his declining performance, he needs to help you justify keeping him onboard, otherwise you’ll have to let him go.

4. Dig Deep. Something happened to knock Joe off track. As the company leader, it’s your job to do everything in your power to find out what, then to help find a solution. He’ll appreciate it, and you’ll be glad you did.

What would you do?


Something else? If you’d take a different plan of attack, email your suggested solution to If we publish your reply, we’ll send you a LBM JOURNAL mug.

See how your judgment compares with others in the industry at
Final results will appear in The Buzz section of the February 2019 issue.


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