Down And (Almost) Out

Stepping in when a top employee's performance goes flat
Magazine Contributor
5 min read

This story appears in the September 1999 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

One of your best employees isn't performing up to par. It's not just one off day, or even an occasional mistake; it's a clearly noticeable downward spiral. You can't afford not to take action.

"By doing nothing, you risk losing that star ," says Jacki Keagy of Personnel Decisions International, a Minneapolis-based consulting firm. "You need to identify the barriers and explore solutions that will put him or her back on track."

Keagy offers three ways you can re-energize a top performer:

1. Acknowledge the change in performance. Let the employee know you've observed a difference in his or her job performance, and ask for the worker's perspective on the situation. Avoid taking an accusatory tone and highlight some of his or her past achievements.

2. Uncover the real issues. Help the employee determine the reasons underlying the problem. Keagy says a change in performance may stem from a work-related incident that caused poor morale, such as being passed over for a promotion. Or the employee may be experiencing or no longer feeling challenged. It's also possible the problem is something personal.

3. Brainstorm solutions. Once you've identified the problem, work with the employee to develop and implement solutions. If the problem is skills-based, arrange for training. If burnout is the problem, solutions may include giving new assignments, providing help with the workload or offering vacation time. If the issue is a temporary personal problem, you may be able to wait it out; but if it's more complicated, make referrals to the available assistance resources. Above all, don't give up on the employee.

Spies Like You

When should you conduct surveillance on a disability claimant?

An has filed a disability claim. You doubt the veracity of the claim, but your insurance company will check it out and you don't need to do anything, right? Not necessarily, says Bill Kizorek, chair of InPhoto Surveillance in Naperville, Illinois. Insurance company claims adjusters may be too overworked to thoroughly investigate every case, and they often work over the telephone rather than in person.

So why should you be concerned if your insurance company is willing to pay out hundreds of thousands of dollars in bogus claims? Because, says Kizorek, just one or two major claims can mean substantially higher premiums or even a canceled policy.

"We've noticed a trend where if the insurance company doesn't proceed with surveillance or doesn't use adequate techniques, small- owners are taking the initiative to put claimants under surveillance," says Kizorek. "And if the surveillance films show that claimants are involved in activities that are contrary to their allegations of disability, then business owners can send that evidence to their insurance carriers."

Kizorek says reasonable video surveillance is legal as long as it doesn't violate any individual's privacy and if it's conducted in an ethical and professional manner. For example, the investigator should not peep through a window where the claimant expects privacy, but if the claimant is doing something in front of a window that's in plain view from the street or sidewalk, he or she has sacrificed the right to privacy. Also, he points out, when people file claims, there is an expectation that the claim will be investigated.

How do you know when video surveillance might be appropriate? Kizorek says the following red flags should make you suspicious:

  • Claimant is never home to answer the phone or is "sleeping and cannot be disturbed"
  • You get leads from co-workers that subject is active in sports, other work and so on
  • Rehab report shows claimant is suntanned, muscular, with calluses on his hands and grease under his fingernails
  • Claimant receives mail at a post office box and will not divulge residence address
  • Claimant either has a history of self- or is a tradesman (carpenter, electrician) with the ability to work for cash while feigning a disability
  • Claimant has moved out of state or country
  • Claimant's demands for compensation are excessive
  • Claimant's disability is beyond that normally associated with claimed injury
  • You have dueling doctors: One says claimant is disabled, another says the opposite.

Used And Improved

Breathe new life into your old furniture.

When your office furniture starts showing signs of age, should you replace it, or is refurbishing a better investment? In most cases, refurbishing can extend the life of your furniture at a substantial savings over buying new, says Tracee Lauder, vice president of marketing with Cube Office Designs & Refurbishing LC in Bountiful, Utah.

Dingy furniture and outdated colors send an undesirable message to your customers and can discourage productivity. "Refurbishing can give your office a whole new look," Lauder says. "[You] can change the fabric, update the colors and replace old laminate." Refurbished furniture can last up to 10 years, but Lauder recommends updating your reception area (and other places your customers see) every six years. The typical savings of refurbishing over replacing is about 40 percent, she says, plus the environmental benefit of recycling.

She also offers these furnishing tips:

  • If it's necessary to replace or add furniture, consider buying used. There's an abundance of used furniture on the market that can be tailored to your specifications.
  • If you need a modular system, choose steel over wood. Steel is stronger, more durable and made to be mobile, a key aspect of modular systems. Lauder says steel can look great for 35 to 40 years with regular refurbishing.

Next Step

To find a refurbishing company, check your Yellow Pages under "Office Furniture" or "Refurbishing." Find out if the refurbisher will assist you in designing your space for maximum efficiency. Check on availability and delivery times. Be sure to ask about the warranty; you want to know how the refurbisher will handle any necessary repairs. And of course, ask for and check references.

Contact Sources

Cube Office Designs & Refurbishing LC, (801) 294-2823,

Personnel Decisions International,


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