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Maggie Harlow

Find Square Holes for Your Sign Company’s Square Pegs

How to move an employee from one role to another, better-suited one.




HAVE YOU EVER HAD that really good employee (reliable, on time, positive attitude) who just cannot seem to get their job right? Maybe the salesperson who just can’t get the hang of Excel. Or the production person whose best efforts still result in an unacceptable number of re-do’s.

It’s very tough when that “marginal” employee is not only a great employee but is beloved by the team. Making a change is hard to do when the coaching you’ve given just hasn’t worked.

Often it boils down to a “square peg in a round hole.”

At my shop, one of our favorite ways to approach this issue has been trying to find that square peg a perfectly square hole. This takes some extra effort on the manager’s part to devise the right move and often candid conversation about the reasons for the change. For the employee, it can be about swallowing their pride and hopefully “sticking” through the transition.

But change, inevitably, is hard!

I’ve laid out some steps for you, as the manager, hopefully to make this transition as easy as possible on the entire team.

Candor is the best medicine. If you haven’t been completely honest, now is the time. Take every step to give the square peg a chance to make the round hole work. If you make a change without being completely honest, or before you have given them a chance to really apply themselves, you are setting both of you up for failure. The square peg’s understanding of their shortcomings and failure to meet the mark should be completely clear.


Talk through what works well for them. If you haven’t already, step into their shoes and find out what they love about the work and the company. Sometimes a paid profile — like a DISC or PI test — can reveal their particular strengths and what they enjoy. It’s well worth that investment to retain an excellent employee.

Be open-minded for discussion about the next role. You might have a small team and not a lot of options. Or maybe you have a bigger team, and you can devise something that works well as a test.

Agree to what success looks like and create hard data for revisit. The new role should have measurable results for what success looks like. Be as specific as possible. Whatever it is, help them be successful by defining it.

Share the good news. Often it can be hard for an employee to “fail” at something, so try to offer the right angle to the rest of the team: “Sheila has found sales isn’t something she loves, but she wants to stay in our team. So we are moving her to print operations!” This shows you value them and want to retain them too.

Coaching! Spending time coaching and supporting through this change is critical. Put in the extra time and effort to make it a success for you both.

While this doesn’t always work, and we have lost our share of employees in an attempt to “find the right fit,” we have many great success stories.

Some of the good outcomes can include:

  • Finding that perfect fit and retaining a great employee who is happy and productive!
  • Surprising yourself by creating the “perfect job” for that employee and discovering new ways your team works together even better.
  • Generating goodwill among your team by proving you’re willing to go the extra mile to make things work for good employees.
  • Reducing turnover and training costs.
  • Creating a more well-rounded team by creating employees with varied experience.

Turnover is inevitable, but sometimes with some extra effort and honest communication you can discover how to make that good employee blossom into the perfect employee!




Introducing the Sign Industry Podcast

The Sign Industry Podcast is a platform for every sign person out there — from the old-timers who bent neon and hand-lettered boats to those venturing into new technologies — we want to get their stories out for everyone to hear. Come join us and listen to stories, learn tricks or techniques, and get insights of what’s to come. We are the world’s second oldest profession. The folks who started the world’s oldest profession needed a sign.

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