Outgrowing Employees

In a growing organization, it is possible to outgrow a member or multiple members of your staff. It’s never an easy decision on how to proceed and managers fret over how they’re going to move forward no matter what the options available may be. Most often, it is a case that the employee was there when the company needed that resource, but the employee has not continued to evolve with the organization.

If the employee has been with the organization for a long time, the manager can often feel responsible for the employee not growing. Questions come up and the manager feels like they should have done more for the employee to set expectations. Down this path, the manager starts looking for positions where the employee would be a better fit. This works out great if there is a position that has been recently vacated for that employee, but more often in small and medium size businesses, a position is created to accommodate the employee that didn’t grow.

After all, the employee is not qualified to move up in the organization or they would have been promoted. They are no longer among the best candidates for the position they’re in, as the organization has changed and the employee has not. Weighing on the mind of their manager is that the employee’s experience with the company would be wasted if that employee were terminated. Logically, a new position in the organization is a good spot for them.

It’s an easy trap to fall into and more often than not ends up delaying the inevitable, which is either that the employee is terminated or leaves unhappily. It can work, but managers must take care that they’re creating a position for the company and not a position for the employee. As much as people matter in your organization, and they do matter more than any other resource that you could possibly obtain, keeping an employee too long creates morale issues with the other employees that did continually evolve and grow with the organization.

How do you, as a manager, avoid the pitfall? The easiest way is to think of the position as one that you would hire for and not one where you’re placing an existing employee. Design the position as if you are going to look for the most qualified candidate. That doesn’t mean that the position can’t have some of the qualities of the employee you currently have, but step back from that employee and design the position itself. Eventually you’re going to have to hire for that position, as no great employee stays in the same position forever, so this method allows some abstraction. Can you imagine another employee filling that role? Can you backfill it when the employee you had in mind is on vacation? If that employee does grow, what will it be like trying to hire a replacement to fill that position? If the answers are “I don’t need to” then the position doesn’t sound like one that you really need.

It’s often a lot muddier than that. As human beings, we can rationalize quite a bit and will generally rationalize that we can easily fill that position in the same manner we used to create it. In the case of internal positions, the backfill will often come from the same place that employee you’re looking at right now came from, having developed the skills in the same manner. Is that a good fit for employees of that type, or will you spend your time hoping you find another identical person with the same drive, lack thereof, and motivations? That’s why an objective approach to designing the position is necessary. Once it’s been designed, then you can fit the employee into the position.

As an employee, avoiding this scenario means recognizing that the company is growing and determining where you need to grow. Your manager can help you with this, but a manager’s job is to put people in your position that can and will do your job, not to make sure that you will do your job. It’s a bit harsh and a good manager will work with you and help you get to where you need to be, helping you to recognize your gaps, weaknesses, and strengths, but ultimately it’s up to you to be a great employee. In the case that the worst happens and you’re terminated, it’s a good time to reflect on how you can recognize change more than any specific “what did I do wrong” scenarios. Look around the office and be honest with yourself, are you the best employee the company has? If not, are you the only one who does things a certain way? If you are the only one doing things in that manner, are you the only one in your position? If you follow that chain and find that there are other people in your position, but you’re the odd man out as far as procedures go, perhaps you’re already reaching this point and need to work with your manager and your team to bring yourself back up to the standard. Don’t spend a lot of time thinking “I’ve done this for X years, and it was always okay before.” Life is a moving target.

Termination is the last thing that most people want, both on the management side and on the employee side. Terminations, ultimately, are a failure on both sides. The manager has failed to appropriately set expectations and manage their employee, while the employee has failed to rise to the challenge. As a manager, it’s hard to terminate an employee when you feel that you’re the one at fault. However, there are few things that bring down morale more than “Joe over there who does so little and doesn’t follow procedure while I bust my butt.” If your company was judged by your lowest common denominator, and it often is, what would it look like? Usually that sentiment comes in varying degrees; it’s never black and white. Actions matter though, and the only action available is to move forward regardless of past mistakes. How you move forward is the only question to ask.

Posted in Advice, Management.

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