Tuesday, December 9, 2014

When do you fire someone?

At a job in Bahrain, my office had a civilian computer administrator (let's call her "Jane") who was just awful. Not only was Jane bad at her job, but she also treated the enlisted Sailors like dirt and regularly slacked off on the job.  I had always been told that you could never fire civilian employees, and apparently Jane's last few supervisors believed that. But in 2008 a new boss came in and, within 6 months, Jane was gone.

Despite popular belief, you don't have to live with poor performers in the government. So how do you get rid of them? After the computer administrator was fired, I asked my boss how and why he did it. He told me that while he didn't enjoy firing anyone, he had considered a few points first:

- THE EFFECT ON THE TEAM: Jane had become caustic to everyone around her. She regularly berated enlisted personnel and was openly hostile to officers. She was dragging down our team's overall performance.

- JOB PERFORMANCE: My boss admitted that he gave people with good performance a bit of slack on the rules, but when he honestly looked at Jane's performance, it wasn't anywhere close to where it should have been. He also realized that Jane used the scare tactic of "no one can do my job", while my boss was smart enough to realize this wasn't true.
After those considerations, my boss set out to either change Jane's behavior or remove her. He went through the following steps:

- WRITTEN COUNSELING: My boss started counseling Jane every time she broke the rules. He wrote down every counseling session, explaining what Jane did wrong and what my boss expected of her in the future. It took him about 20 minutes to type up the counseling and 10 minutes to deliver it. The counseling sessions ensured that Jane knew she was screwing up and knew what she needed to change.

- PERFORMANCE REVIEW: Everyone gets an annual review, and for DoD civilians this is typically done in October. Jane refused to change her ways and continued verbally abusive behavior, so my boss graded her down on her review. On a scale of 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest), he gave her a '1' in communications and a '2' in two other areas. Jane responded by submitting a statement, which in the end had no effect on my boss’s career. Jane's bad performance review did remove her from receiving a $10,000 bonus.

- INVOLVE HR: After Jane lost her bonus, she was offered a chance to leave, which she declined. My boss’s last step was to tell human resources (in our case, the N1) to hire someone else for the job and remove Jane. HR asked for documentation, and my boss gladly handed over copies of counseling sessions and her performance review. Jane's spot was filled in a month and she was on a one-way ticket to the United States.

Was the pain worth it? I think so. We became a more productive team and hired a computer administrator with better skills than Jane, despite Jane's insistence that she was "indispensible." The Sailors weren't subjected to her verbal abuse every day. Perhaps most importantly, other divisions took notice and their slackers began to shape up.

Have you ever dealt with a bad service member or employee that should have been fired? Did you have a boss that stood up and did the right thing by removing that person?