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Fire the employee - Problem solved?

Sarah Wrenn

Category:

Investigations

A common facilitation challenge

Leading an investigation can be challenging and hard work!  It can be especially difficult when someone in an investigation decides that there is no need to dig into the details of what happened because the “problem is solved” – we fired the guy!  In this blog, we’ll discuss the reasons firing an employee is not an effective solution and some strategies to respond if this is the perspective of your investigation team.

I was sitting in a lovely restaurant in Chicago, overlooking the city lights and enjoying great company and conversation. At one point in the conversation, I am asked: “How often do you see investigations stop with a solution to fire the employee?” I laughed and acknowledged with disappointment that I have seen that occur. My friend went on to explain his own experience with this as an engineer working on corrective actions and process improvement for a manufacturing company. He started by reviewing their database for corrective actions and found a theme. The database would list the following cause and solution:

              Cause: Employee made a mistake/did not follow procedure

              Solution: Employment terminated

Employment Terminated: Not an effective solution

Letting an employee go is not effective in preventing similar problems from happening to others in your organization. Let’s say an employee has repeatedly missed a step on a checklist, how does firing that employee prevent the next new hire from missing the exact same step?  In addition, firing the employee sends out the message that you better not screw up or make a mistake, because “remember what happened to the last guy who did?” It can cause a culture of fear instead of prevention. At its worst, it has the unintended consequence of encouraging employees to cover up or hide problems. This limits our ability to know what’s going on within our organizations and we lose the opportunity to solve other issues.

There's a better way: Focus on the process

Instead of putting blame on the employee, focus on the process. What gaps exist in the process that allowed the employee to make a mistake? If the risk is high enough, should there be two people to validate or verify a step? What is the culture surrounding “verification”?

Talk about the procedure they were following, and ask what steps didn’t go well?  Dig into the details of the task and identify if there are differences in how the procedure says work IS DONE versus how it SHOULD BE DONE. Dig into the procedure to see if it is inaccurate or lacking necessary detail. If there isn’t a procedure at all, ask “why not” and “should there be one”? 

What if the employee just really isn't good at his/her job?

Let’s say the employee has a complete disregard for your organization’s procedures, actively violates company policies, and has a history of problems. Within this scenario there are systemic opportunities for process improvements that are often missed. In this case, we ask:

  • Why/how did we hire someone so deficient?
  • Why did we keep this employee for so long?
  • What standards do we set and how do we measure performance?
  • Is our training program effective?
  • Do we hold employees accountable?
  • Do we hold ourselves accountable for holding them accountable?
  • What’s the qualification process?
  • Have the job duties changed?

Asking these types of questions will help to drive process improvements and ensure the next person in the role is best suited to perform the tasks required.

Getting started

If you’d like to learn more about how we help organizations improve the reliability of their work processes, contact our office or send us an email.  Any work process or task within your organization that has costly, recurring issues is an obvious place for you to start.   

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