What if Your Company has a Tenure System?

Posted on June 20, 2016.

Would you stay, or would you go? Tenure is a century old system that was initially designed to protect teachers from arbitrary dismissal, like getting pregnant, getting married or even wearing slacks.

But a recent teacher tenure case in California got me thinking, what if corporate America adopted a similar system?  Would our productivity fall and what would happen to the value of the companies themselves?  Would workers stay in a job or with a company they didn’t like just because they knew they wouldn’t get fired?

According to this California case, teachers with poor ratings were often transferred to lower income schools.  I’m guessing this happens in other states as well. Interestingly enough, even without tenure rules, I see the same behavior in companies. Haven’t we all worked with or for managers who didn’t want to deal with a problem, so just transferred the problem to someone else?

Despite the fact that I have both friends and relatives that are teachers, I’m not a big fan of the tenure system. So I also can’t support companies that essentially engage in the same practice by being crisis avoiders. Plus, employees that may not be a good fit will stay just because they know no one will take the time to get rid of them. As I’ve said to many of my former colleagues who are now managing teams, “People you want to leave- never leave, you have to fire them.” Maybe if you’re lucky you can make their lives so miserable, they will eventually leave, but is that the right way to deal with the problem?

Unfortunately, I’ve had my fair share of dealing with people that were not good fits. And that’s how I like to view them. Most employees want to do a good job, but they are either not qualified or don’t fit into the culture of the organization.  Either way, they need to go.  So following these steps will make the process easier and speedier:

1.     Start with a conversation.  Don’t wait until the dreaded annual performance review. As soon as you notice something isn’t right, deal with it.  Ask the person how they feel they’re doing and find out how far apart your assessments are. Maybe they need additional training or mentoring.  At a minimum, this person now knows they are not working to your expectation. Make sure you lay out a plan at this first meeting.

2.     Put it in writing. At some point, either in the first sit down or shortly thereafter, you need to put a written plan in place.  The easiest way to do this is with a simple counseling form.  You have to be specific about what is expected, what the time line is and what the outcome will be if they fail, i.e., “you will be terminated”.

3.     Double check with your HR folks.  Make sure you aren’t breaking any employment laws and that your communication’s plan is solid. But don’t let your human resource partner talk you out of moving forward. I think they’re paid to worry about too many “what ifs”.

There may not be much we can do about the tenure system in education. But it’s never too late to take a leadership role in making sure you company doesn’t embrace a system transfers problems instead of removing them.