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The Critical Path method

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Try to imagine this scenario. You hired a marginal person based on a great interview. You thought you found a winner. But after a few months, he or she is coming in tardy, leaving early, treating clients rudely, and even acting entitled to pay advances and vacations. Or a long-time employee suddenly turns negative and displays poor work habits. Your first inclination is to replace them. But you have invested time and money and hate to go through the long process of hiring. What should you do?

Put them on a “Critical Path”

When I was an industrial psychologist for New York Life, we put together a results-focused path that produced better performance in the beginning and tolerated zero at the end. Performance was reviewed on a daily basis. Since there was zero tolerance for a lack of adherence to the Critical Path, it was easy to see who would be successful and who needed to go.

Here is how to apply your own Critical Path method in your business:

1. Identify five or fewer behaviors necessary to change now. For new hires, specify behaviors that are necessary for a quick start to successful performance.

2. Make them tangible behaviors that an employee can change. Don’t tell them to improve their performance, instead tell them how to do it. For example, monitor that they are at work at 8 a.m. Make sure they get assignments out the same day unless they check with you ahead of time. Be specific.

3. Monitor performance of those behaviors daily. If you don’t apply the Critical Path, you and the employee will revert to the old behaviors and nothing will change. You can do this at the end of the day or even in the morning. But do it daily.

4. Make sure you consistently monitor the behavior. Don’t monitor once in a while. Put in your calendar that you will engage in the Critical Path for a month or two months. The key is to be consistent.

5. Get them to update the operations manual. If they leave without updating your operations manual, you have lost their experience. The best time to update the manual is at the beginning of employment as they are being trained and at the end before someone leaves. But if you wait until they quit or are fired, there is no motivation to update your manual and you have to re-learn what they have been doing.

The sad truth is that your problem employee is unlikely to change. Our experience has shown that 33 percent will improve, 33 percent will leave within three months and 33 percent will leave immediately when you start to measure performance. But the Critical Path Method is important to enact anyway. It is worth your time to improve staff performance and get control of your business.

“It was easy to see who would be successful and who needed to go.”

Kerry Johnson, MBA, PH.D., ( is a best-selling author, coach and speaker. Responses and questions can be sent to [email protected].


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