One Bad Apple

Originally posted May 2014

I’m currently the approved HR adviser for Knowsley Council’s Business Growth scheme, and recently that’s involved me working with a couple of entrepreneurs who are considering taking on their first members of staff.

What’s struck me on meeting them are 3 things

  • They want to be “good” employers – do things legally correctly and behave fairly to their staff
  • They have a perception that employment law is designed to stop them doing things
  • This perception is often based on the fact that they’ve  heard stories of other small businesses that have had problems with an employee and which ended “badly” for the employer (“He was doing X, Y and Z, they couldn’t get rid of him and when they did he took them to a tribunal which cost them ££”)

If you employ 5 or 6 people then having 1 problematic member of staff can be a major management headache – especially if that individual starts quoting apparent “rights” at you.  While it’s often quoted that you should base your management approach on the 95% of staff who work well rather than the 5% who are a problem, it can be difficult to remember this when your time is being taken up by one troublesome person.

So here are some tips to tackle these situations

  • Don’t let things fester – tackle a problem when it first appears. The longer you allow unacceptable behaviour to continue, the more the individual will assume it is ok. This applies whether it’s performance, attitude, time-keeping or any other work area
  • If someone quotes “rights” at you – check it out before responding. Unless they are employment experts, the chances are that they are no more knowledgeable than you, and are twisting something to their own advantage.  Remember that many employment rights are the right to request something without being disadvantaged (e.g. flexible working), not an absolute right in themselves.
  • The law does allow you to dismiss someone provided you have a fair reason (which covers 5 very broad categories) and have followed a fair process (which essentially means giving the individual the chance to give their side of the story before making your decision).

And if you do part company, analyse why things went wrong

  • Did you recruit the person because they were a “friend” of an existing employee, or because you needed someone quickly and the individual “looked ok”. Recruitment shortcuts are one of the commonest causes of problematic employees
  • Did you spend time with them when they started work, ensuring they knew what was expected of them and they understood how your business operated. The time you’d spend doing this will be significantly less than the time you’ll spend managing them when things go wrong

Successful entrepreneurs have things go wrong and learn from their failure. But when it comes to employment too many use one failure as an excuse for not trying again. Remember that one bad apple shouldn’t – and doesn’t have to – impact on the long term success of your business. (As those 70s business gurus The Osmonds put it here)



The Masterchef approach to Talent Management

Originally published in December 2011

Fans of TV reality show Professional Masterchef will have seen Aussie chef Ash Mair win last night in one of the closest finals in the series. What makes this programme different from the normal reality freakshow (e.g The Apprentice) – and a good example of how to manage and develop talent in any industry – is that it takes those who are already trained in their chosen field and sets up a method of developing their talents by giving them real life situations where they are both mentored and challenged to improve their performance.
The selection process is not through interview or psychometrics – the chefs are given a basic skills test before they can progress to actual cooking (scarily, quite a few apparently qualified chefs fail this). They are not only mentored in specific culinary skills by working with Michelin starred chefs, but also learn about customer service and marketing (challenges  have included taking over a hospital canteen,  and producing menus for children where extra credit is gained for whose dish is chosen most), working with key stakeholders and opinion formers (by cooking for food critics) and benchmarking themselves against the best in the industry.
The key though is that they are always given constructive criticism and challenged to improve, while being given the support to do this. By working with the best, they are then assessed to see what they have learned and pushed to do better.  And while there is a competitive edge, both the other finalists (and indeed others knocked out earlier) will also see a tremendous boost to their careers.
At a time when management is being increasingly criticised for poor performance, and businesses need to develop their staff to give them a competitive advantage, perhaps it’s time to look at the Masterchef model as a way to do it.