Have you ever looked at ants or bees and wondered how they could be so coordinated? They work at the same vigorous pace and appear to stay in formation until their task is complete.
Even the less popular roaches are predictable and united in their mission to annoy and embarrass. I know you must be wondering what things are coming to if I can seek to draw parallels between professional teams and common insects.
We are human and more sophisticated in our individual and organisational processes, yet less capable of cohesion and coordinated efforts towards consistently high performance standards and excellent service levels. Is it really because of our culture, as some like to suggest, that Batswana are generally lazy? I actually think that that is an outdated myth.
Why then is it that people don't reflect their organisational culture by conforming to the stipulated behavioural and performance levels? And why doesn't management 'do something?' I'm sure in every team, there is at least one person who the recruitment officer wishes hadn't accepted the offer of employment - that one person whose resignation would be eagerly welcomed and expedited.
This is the sort of person who, despite undergoing the same organisational welcoming processes as everyone else, such as orientation and induction, simply deviates from the expected 'norm'. I'm not necessarily talking about the social groupings and their rituals, but the standards and ethics of delivery.
I'll say upfront that I don't expect people to be clones of each other in the workplace. This is not about that. It is about people showing the same levels of understanding and respect for team values.
Ever wondered why there is so much disconnect between the image projected by the command and the reality presented by the troops? I think the problem is that once someone is confirmed as permanent and pensionable, they become difficult to dismiss. It is far easier to dismiss during probation, but many employers hesitate because they think maybe the employee is still learning the ropes and will eventually deliver, other than that fact that recruitment is costly.
Thus, the employee starts a track record of minor oversights that are a nuisance but not enough to call a hearing. The longer it goes on the more difficult it is to address the issue. I mean, you must know that in the event of taking disciplinary action, you can only list one or two related offences on the charge sheet, and those are the only ones you can discuss with the employee. So s/he gets away with the rest.
Even though employment law says an employer can dismiss for consistently poor performance, the process is long and costly both in terms of money and sheer energy.
The employee should have been given at least two written warnings, and the employer must show that he offered sufficient time, guidance and support to help the employee meet performance expectations.
Can you see how this process can potentially stretch over 18 months? There will be the performance appraisal, the observations and recommendations, the application of recommendations. After a while, the candidate will be assessed again and if still lacking, perhaps called for a hearing and eventually given a written warning for poor performance.
The process goes on again until a second written warning is issued. Then the employer has to observe and support the employee for a further period before finally calling the third hearing at which the employee will be dismissed.
Obviously, there should have been an incident that led to a complaint that led to the hearing, and as you may know as an employer, non-performing employees are very good at flying just inches below the radar, so it may be difficult to get the process going, to start with. Sometimes there are incidences that supervisors conceal - they are also people and perhaps value their relationships on the floor.
Unless you are willing to take a well-calculated risk to make your point loud and clear. There was this MD around town who was known for his no-nonsense attitude. The third time his PA sent out Board packs late, he arranged an impromptu disciplinary meeting and she got a final written warning.
After that she forgot to confirm his return flight from an overseas conference, and when he finally arrived, she was dismissed for poor performance.
Sure, he was in contravention of employment law, but he managed to send a clear message to his team: minimum mistakes and maximum results. Whether afraid of him or not, whether they liked him or not, everyone worked hard to stay out of trouble and out of his way. All staff in that business are focused on delivery. They realize that non-performance has consequences. The immediate impact of a job loss outweighs the prospect of a favourable industrial court outcome.
Not to say people should be treated as disposable. Of course not! But they should respect their jobs enough to make the effort. Shouldn't they? Notwithstanding the unscrupulous employer types who'd dismiss on impulse, many employers know how costly it is to have a high staff turnover, and I'd bet jobs would be just as safe in that environment.
Nor am I saying people should be allowed to live in fear of dismissal. I think most employers care more about meeting objectives than they do about unleashing a 'mean campaign' on innocent employees.
With so many motivation theorists asking us to assume that employees are inherently good and positive people who want to work given the right environment, why can't we be allowed to assume (or should that be hope) that employers are inherently good and positive people who will reward positive behaviour and correct negative behaviour in a fair and consistent fashion? I wonder what happens to ants and bees that consistently fail to meet performance targets?
Shameela Winston is a human resource consultant in private practice. She is available to readers on [email protected]