Stop Watering Dead Plants

By Belle DuCharme, RDA, CDPMA

When it comes to gardening, I don’t have a “green thumb.” I do best with succulents and cactus because they need little attention and make my southern California yard look great. I look at plants and people in the same light. Metaphorically they need little managing and get the job done correctly.

I like dependability in plants and people. As business leaders, sometimes we are asked to nurture and “water” certain people to elicit the best performance. Encouragement, training, listening, mentoring are necessary traits of great people leaders and critical to developing motivated and engaged team members. A good leader will set a standard for the behavior they seek to see demonstrated by their employees.

Plants that are green, growing, and putting out lovely blossoms make our garden a delight and soothe our soul. The fading plant with withered leaves that fails to thrive tends to get more of our attention as we throw more water and fertilizer on it to help it grow. Sometimes this over watering takes our much-needed attention away from our patients and the rest of the team.

At what point do we stop watering dead plants?

Last week, I was on my daily walk around the neighborhood when I came across a large potted plant sitting on a driveway with a sign that read “Free” propped up next to it. The plant was drooping, decayed, and parched; even “free” didn’t interest me. No amount of water would save this plant.

If an employee is not performing to satisfaction and is not pulling the team uphill to meet goals, would you keep them on if they offered to work for free? You and I both know it isn’t about the salary. It’s about the big picture, the core values, and the culture of your business.

How do you know when to stop watering?

Consider the following first:

  • Before I hired this person, did I clearly state my expectations regarding attitude, core values, work ethics, and following business systems and protocols?
  • Did I present to the applicant a written job description and areas of accountability for the position?
  • Did I thoroughly vet the applicant’s skills concerning job expectations?
  • Did I present a current Employee Policy Manual that represents each position’s performance requirements and the policies regarding state employment guidelines?
  • Have I provided a successful onboarding experience?
  • Is the whole team involved with the success of the new hire?
  • Is the team mentoring and training the new hire to understand the business’s culture and core values?

Before you “weed out” the dead plant:

  1. Did you meet with the person on a one-on-one basis to discuss performance and attitude? Regularly scheduled meetings, especially in the beginning, ensure personal attention and allow the new hire to discuss any issues or problems needing immediate attention.
  2. As a leader, did you represent yourself as a source to give honest but fair feedback? Did you give the person a chance to learn and improve their performance before they got off the track?
  3. Are you willing to give the person a second chance to take responsibility for their actions and behavior and agree to improve quickly?

Having to part company with an employee due to a bad attitude or a poor performance, or both are always unwelcome news. Carefully check that you have done everything possible to give them the tools for success before you finalize your decision.


Belle DuCharme, CDPMA Emeritus, Dental Consultant, has been a professional writer, speaker, and dental training consultant for the dental profession for the last several decades. Her long career includes clinical and business practice management and development of systems customized to each practice needs.

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