People, people, people

W e’ve all heard the overused refrain that the three factors that matter most in the success of a business are location, location, location. However, at the top of my list, I would substitute people, people, people.

The problem is that, at some point, you have made or will make people mistakes. Either you selected the wrong person or you went awry in providing the employee direction and guidance. What must you do when you discover your misjudgment? It gets down to two choices. First, try to fix the problem, or secondly, when all else fails, eliminate the problem.

One of the most costly issues facing all organizations is turnover, but it can be even more costly to keep the wrong person in the wrong job. As much as you hope that, miraculously, the situation will improve, it seldom does. When all else fails, you’ll have to correct your error because the Good Fairy won’t.

Most smart companies today have numerous checkpoints to minimize bad hires. These include multiple interviews by various executives in the organization, psychological and work-style assessments to improve the odds, and a thorough vetting of the candidate’s historical performance elsewhere, knowing that a tiger doesn’t change its stripes.

Even after taking all of these precautions, sometimes the union between employer and employee just doesn’t click. This results in having the wrong person in the wrong job or having the right person with the wrong attitude. When this occurs, the savior you thought would almost walk on water will start sinking faster than the Titanic did after hitting that humongous iceberg. The worst and most damaging action, or lack thereof, is to let inertia set in, while continuing to hope that there will be some form of divine intervention that will improve the performance of your fallen superstar.

The only logical course of action is to do a double-check and take a sobering look at yourself in the mirror to make sure the problem is not you. Ask yourself these simple questions: Am I giving the appropriate direction, setting realistic expectations and providing the necessary support? If you checked the “yes” box for all three of these, then it is time to solve your problem.

Start by having a heart-to-heart sit-down with the employee and ask him or her some tough questions. Among them: Do you have a clue that you are not getting the job done? Do you realize you are doing more damage than good, and what on Earth is the problem? This is no time to mince words because, just like the Titanic, the person is sinking more deeply by the minute.

If you get very lucky, the employee will have that aha moment and say, “I had no idea.” Then there’s still some slim hope that you can create a road map to get this underperformer back on the reservation. If you pursue this course, make sure that you set a specific timetable as to what has to be done by when and what measurement you will use to judge improvements. This type of open communication can work and the laggard might just do a 180 and get back in the game.

Most times, no matter how much both sides try, it just won’t work. When you realize that you are no Mother Theresa, it is time to move to Plan B. Under this scenario, it gets down to damage control and plugging the gaping hole in your hull. This means bringing together other members of the team and figuring out who will do what until you find the next Mr. or Ms. Right. Don’t be surprised to discover that once you air the problem with your associates, you’ll learn that the underperformer’s deficiencies were the company’s worst kept secret. Typically, once you decide enough is enough, your team’s reaction will be, “What took you so long?”

No leader likes to make people mistakes. However, when it happens — and you can be guaranteed that at some point it will — you cannot afford to prolong the problem. Never forget that the three keys to your success are: people, people, people — who consistently get it right and deliver on their promises.

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988. Starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind wellness chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. Reach him with comments at [email protected].