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Retrain, Relocate, Replace: The Three R’s of Dealing with an Underperforming Team Member

staff training Mar 16, 2019

By Dave Kovar


The first 10 years that I was in business, the concept of staff development was foreign to me. I did pretty much everything by myself, or got one of my advanced students to help out when necessary. That all changed in the late 80s when my older brother, Tim, came on as my business partner.

Out of the gate, the first thing he wanted us to do was to start grooming a team that could help us grow. To me, it seemed like a waste of time. But I was excited to have a partner and wanted to stay open-minded and receptive to his input.

I quickly found out what a valuable use of time this was. By the early ‘90s, we had a core group of team members that were committed to our vision and to growing our schools. As a matter of fact, I am proud to say that many of those same people are still a part of our organization today.

Although we don’t have everything figured out, when it comes to the area of developing a rock-solid team, we have made amazing progress over the last 30 years. This month, I want to share with you a concept I’ve found to be incredibly helpful. It’s one you can apply when you have a team member who is not performing at the level that you would like. We call it “The 3 Rs of dealing with an underperforming team member.”


The first R is “Retrain.”

It has been my experience that often, someone is underperforming because he/she was not trained right in the first place. I believe this is always the best place to start.

Assume that you did not train this person correctly the first time and spend the time now retraining them in the areas in which they were underperforming. Often, that will solve the problem.

Keep this in mind: It is far more challenging to retrain someone than to simply train them right the first time, because they will have already developed a habit. The act of retraining a bad habit is difficult. We find that the more time we spend in initial training, the less time that we have to spend retraining people.


The second R is “Relocate.”

If you feel like you have a good team member who’s conscientiously trying hard, but just can’t seem to perform to the level you need, perhaps you have him/her in the wrong position.

For example, for years we used the position of program director as a stepping stone to becoming a head instructor. We never really looked for the unique talents that a program director needs to do their job; instead, we hired people that wanted to be head instructors. We had them perform program director duties until the head instructor position opened up.

What seems obvious now, but took us a long time to learn, is the fact that some people simply do some jobs better than they do others. The more that you can fit the job to the person, the better the results you are going to get.


The third R is “Replace.”

In my experience, this is hard to do for two primary reasons. First off, we tend to become emotionally attached to the people on our team. This is true in martial arts even more so than most businesses because, often, these people were our students for years before coming to work for us.

Secondly, we often don’t have someone on hand to fill his/her role. So we become beholden to this person, even when he/she is doing a substandard job. That’s why working on building your bench strength is so important.

So, the next time you find yourself dealing with a team member who’s performing below your accepted standard, try applying “the 3 R’s” to the situation. It is always a good place to start.


You can contact Master Dave Kovar at [email protected]

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