Problem solver: How do I deal with staff member's drop in performance?

Q: I have a member of staff who has been with me for 20 years who is no longer performing, despite repeated coaching and even formal warnings. Is there any easy way for me to handle this?

A: Situations like this can be distressing for business owners, particularly if it is a smaller business and this person has been a key member of your staff for a prolonged period. There is only one possible outcome - they need to leave.

The important thing from your point of view is that this is done with the utmost sensitivity and respect for the person. I have made the assumption that you have taken all the appropriate legal advice and are now at a point where you are legally entitled to dismiss them. You also need to satisfy yourself that you have given the employee every possible opportunity to redeem the situation. If the answer to all of the above is yes, you have no choice but to move ahead.

You might consider some of the following: could you pay for an extended 'Garden Leave' period to allow the employee time to find a new job? Could you pay an external expert who would work with them to get them ready to take on new employment? Are they an age that they can retire and you might be able to make a donation to their pension? Look for additional supports which might ease the transition. Your duty as an employer is to protect the business. You have done everything possible to make this situation work. The employee has chosen to ignore these opportunities and, as unpleasant as it is, you must address the situation.

You may be a member of a business association or trade body who will have experts to advise on these situations. It is important you take as much advice as possible.

Q: I opened a shop in a town last year which is not turning over enough to keep going. The customers say it's priced right and they love it but it is not doing well. I don't have more money to invest and think I'm going to go under. Any help would be much appreciated.

A: I would encourage you not to give up. Here are some practical things you might consider. If your shop is very large reduce the size by blocking off a section and condense the range into a smaller space. Very often this has the effect of making the remaining space look fuller and also drives the sales upwards.

You are calling it a shop, so I'm assuming it's not a cafe. If so look around your town and see is there scope for you to get an existing cafe owner to sublet any spare space from you. Cafes are real footfall drivers and you could sell more of your retail products to these extra customers. Alternatively open the cafe yourself if you have funds and expertise.

Try doing something different to get people's attention, eg buy in some good value stock (not poor quality) and do a "madness sale" over two or three days. You might even consider opening at 7am the first day to generate discussion and interest locally.

You mention that you have no cash. I assume you do have stock in the shop. You need to release cash from the current stock to get the "wheels" moving again. If there is stock not moving and tying up cash, then I can only conclude it's the wrong stock. Reduce it to cost and get rid of it quickly. That will allow you to release cash and purchase new stock of more popular lines.

I have made the assumption in the above that you are making great efforts on social media, that you have created a customer text database and that you are generally looking at every free marketing opportunity you can create.

Don't give up on your dream. I would also advise that you visit your local enterprise office, which will have mentors who could dig deeper into the issues and solutions.

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