This interview was featured on on 16/10/2015.

Fred Mouawad, CEO of project management software company Taskworld, takes a very dynamic approach to “getting the right people in the right roles.”

“We don’t have a set box and say, ‘Okay, we’re going to try to fit somebody in that box,’” Mouawad explains. “Instead, we look at the whole team and say, ‘How can we divide responsibilities and tasks across the team so we maximize the performance of everyone?’”

In practice, this is how Mouawad’s approach works:

  1. An employee is hired.
  2. Taskworld scopes the employee’s work out, and the employee begins performing their job.
  3. Managers share constant feedback with the employee regarding their performance, and the employee adjusts their performance accordingly.
  4. At the same time, managers pay attention to the employee’s strengths and weaknesses in the role, and they tweak the role based on the employee’s strengths, as needed.

“If somebody starts in a position, and we find that the position doesn’t fit their strength, we rescope it to fit their strength,” Mouawad says. “That way, we can maximize their productivity and their contribution to the organization.”

The Importance of Attitude and Aptitude

Taskworld’s approach to performance management is pretty progressive, but even in this dynamic system, Mouawad still finds that, sometimes, he has to let people go.

In those cases, it all comes down to two things: attitude and aptitude, or “will and skill,” as Mouawad calls them.

If an employee has the right attitude and the right aptitude, then they’ll perform well. If an employee has neither the right attitude nor the right aptitude, then it’s pretty clear that they need to be let go.

But when an employee has the attitude and not the aptitude, or vice versa — that’s when things get difficult.

“If someone has a great attitude, and they really fit the behavioral side of the organization, but they don’t really have the skills, that becomes a tough call,” Mouawad says. “And then, some people are very skilled, but they have bad behavior. They may be performing on the job, but their behavior is damaging the culture of the organization.”

Is It Time to Let That Employee Go?

When faced with these tough calls, Mouawad uses a system that is similar to his approach to performance management. It is a system based on a clear understanding between the organization and the employee regarding how performance is evaluated and measured.

“We start with a conversation. We provide clear feedback, and we come up with a mutual plan between the organization and the employee,” Mouawad says.

An employee who is underperforming usually doesn’t even realize they are doing so. There is a gap between the employee’s perception of their performance and the manager’s perception of the employee’s performance.

As Workboard CEO Deidre Paknad said in a recent article: “Often, low performance is the result of an alignment gap. What the manager thinks is important to focus on isn’t what the person is focusing on.”

This is why Mouawad’s process starts with a conversation: It allows the employee and the manager to sync up, to align their understandings of what success looks like in this role.

After setting a plan for employee success, managers then set their sites on nurturing the employee.

“We try to support that person in making the required changes,” Mouawad says. “We want people to succeed, and we will provide the support structure to help them succeed. If they are able to perform, everyone is happy.”

If, even after making a plan and being given support, the employee is still not meeting expectations, then what was once a tough call becomes a fairly easy decision, Mouawad says.

“We provide feedback to each person so they know how well they are doing,” Mouawad says. “If they don’t (grow or learn along the way), they know they’re not performing. We have to let them go.”

Rarely does the firing come as a surprise to employees, Mouawad says.

“We make it very transparent,” he explains. “There is no ambiguity regarding what it takes to succeed. Most of the time, people realize they were given a second chance.”

Rather than hiring slow and firing fast, Mouawad and his team do everything slowly — and it makes a huge difference in employee performance. So the next time you’re ready to fire an employee, you may want to stop and make sure you’ve done everything you can to make sure the employee succeeds. Hiring a new employee is expensive, after all.

Of course, if you have done everything you can, and the employee still doesn’t have the attitude and/or aptitude they need — then you know what you have to do.

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