National Clothesline
Sorting out the good from the bad
Who are the best employees? The ones who make you money. There may be employees who
make your life easier, but it could be argued they make you money, too.
Good employees show up, do what they are
asked to do, do what you forgot or did not ask
them to do, and act like your business is theirs.
Bad employees, for the most part, have all
the opposite traits of a good employee. One
problem is that they think they are good
employees or think they are worth more than
they are.
Unlike a good employee, who recognizes
when he or she is not performing up to par, a bad employee thinks he is overworked and
functioning at the highest levels.
Bad employees are litigious. If fired or pushed to produce more, they blame others for their
shortcomings or conclude that you have selected them for abuse because of their age, sex,
race, disability, religion, and so on.
In fact, most employers are aware of this, and they hesitate to take the action they should
out of the fear of being sued. The anti-discrimination laws have lowered the performance bar in
many companies, and bad employees benefit.
There are, of course, employees who just get by, do the minimum they must to avoid
discharge, and exhibit the traits of both good employees and bad. Perhaps this is the majority of
employees — people who work solely because they need to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves
and their families. They are people whose favorite word is “whatever.”
Good employees need to be compensated properly and recognized for their value or they will
eventually be someone else’s good employee. They frequently are bothered by the mediocre
and bad employees, especially if those lesser employees are paid similarly to them for lower
quality work. Some of those good employees leave because they want to work for companies
with higher standards.
It is therefore essential that bad employees be weeded out, and mediocre employees be paid
less than stellar wages.
Let’s first discuss the weeding out process.
Too few companies take full advantage of the probationary period, whether it is a formal one
or just the first few months of employment. Just by paying attention, employers should be able
to identify bad employees in that time, rather than endure years of bad performance until
“enough is enough.”
Calling in sick, arriving late (no matter how good the excuse), and resisting critical instruction
in the first few months are all signs of future problems. Eventually their true personality will be
revealed. If they hang out with your worst employees, they will likely develop bad habits they
did not even know they had.
Employees who slip past the probationary period should not be given a free pass. Companies
are not stuck with their mistakes forever, unless they allow themselves to be. Use regular
evaluations, give warnings for performance issues that do not rise to the level of misconduct,
and when employees fail to improve, fire them.
Making exceptions because an employee has a pleasant personality or a family to feed will not
be an acceptable excuse for explaining why you fired an older worker, minority, or other
protected worker with a miserable personality or no mouths to feed at home.
The other side of the weeding out process is the retention of good employee process. I know
this is hard to accept, but there can be reasons why you should not be the highest paid
employee of the business.
I have clients whose commissioned salespeople regularly earn more than they do, and they
are fine with that. It happens in the entertainment business all the time, so why shouldn’t it
happen in a business that sells products or services? Unions believe that employees are worth
the same; employers know better.
Part of the retention process also requires that good employees not be promoted into
supervisory positions for which they have no talent or ability. I have a car dealership client who
would never dare promote Bat Masterson (not his real name), its top salesperson, to sales
manager or general manager. That would be a disaster for everybody.
By the same token, we still have to make sure that Bat understands that his salary and
benefits not only depend on his good sales, but his recognition that the sales manager has to be
treated with respect to avoid other salespeople concluding they can get away with anything.
In fact, in that dealership, the sales manager and Bat have an understanding that sometimes
Bat will be called out for criticism at a sales meeting to cause the others to think: “Man, if they
are busting Bat’s chops, maybe I should be working a little harder.”
I understand that the manager of the San Francisco Giants used to do the same thing with
Willie Mays at team meetings.
Good employees need to be cherished; bad employees need to be former employees. Make
that a priority in your business.
One last word. Just because you are making money is no reason to keep bad employees.
Future success is never guaranteed, and imagine how much more money you could be making
with more employees like Bat Masterson.

Frank Kollman is a partner in the law firm of Kollman & Saucier