Incompetent? Think twice before firing him.

His performance rating is low and getting lower. The obvious first thought is to get rid of him. The sensible second thought is to probe to the root of the problem. Unfortunately, Engineering Project Supervisor Stu Mailin never got beyond thought one.


His performance rating is low and getting lower. The obvious first thought is to get rid of him. The sensible second thought is to probe to the root of the problem.

Unfortunately, Engineering Project Supervisor Stu Mailin never got beyond thought one. Al Crenshaw, a junior engineer hired 11-mo prior, was failing consistently to meet established standards for his job. Mailin's conclusion was clear. He had to go.

Life wasn't that simple. When Mailin broke the news to Crenshaw, he protested the discharge. When Mailin showed him the performance record on which his decision was based, the young engineer didn't dispute the figures and conceded he had been functioning below standard.

"Then how -- ?"

"It's not my fault," Crenshaw cut in. "The first 4 mo of my employment, my performance was rated above average."

"So what? I'm sure you heard the expression, 'Don't tell me what you did yesterday; what have you done for me today?'"

"Sure. But the reason I'm below standard is your fault, not mine. I was doing fine in the job I was hired to do. It's only when you switched me to Section C that I ran into problems."

"I can't see why that should be. You received adequate training for the new job."

"It depends on what you call adequate. For one thing, the work I've been assigned to for the past few months doesn't make the best use of my prior training and experience. For another, I don't get along with Joe Bondi, the trainer you assigned to me. He doesn't care if I succeed or not."

When Mailin refused to back down, Crenshaw threatened to sue.

Question: If Crenshaw follows through with his threat, how do you rate his chance of winning?

Bernardi's decision: "Transfer him out of Section C," Plant Engineer George Bernardi instructed Mailin. "Before firing an employee for incompetence, investigate the circumstances involved. A person's per-formance doesn't ordinarily change from above average to below average without good reason. It's a supervisor's responsibility to check into and determine that reason."

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