How to Manage a Challenging Hire

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Hiring and training new employees isn’t a black-and-white process — in fact, there’s quite a bit of gray area. That’s because there’s a lot of emotion and opinion involved, and everyone approaches it differently.

For example: What do you consider satisfactory job performance? How much time do you think is required to properly train an employee? How long should it take before a new hire “gets it”?

And what would you consider to be poor performance and/or unsatisfactory customer service? There are no one-size-fits-all answers to those questions.

Blurring the lines even further is the matter of potential. Finding employees is hard, so once you’ve invested time, energy and money into training that person, you want to keep him or her as long as possible. And if your new hire is struggling — not keeping up with training, forgetting things on the truck, making rookie mistakes, etc. — you may be tempted to cut the person loose.

If your new hire just isn’t getting the hang of the technical stuff, but is otherwise hardworking and does everything possible to make your customers happy, I strongly encourage you to do whatever you can to keep them on board. Letting someone go should be the last resort.

Here, we’ll take a look at some of the common, frustrating scenarios we often encounter when managing new hires, and what to do about them.


Do you ever feel like a broken record, repeating the same things time after time again? Yeah, me too.

It’s one of those things that comes with the territory, especially if you’re hiring someone as green as grass, like I commonly do. The fact is the variables in our industry are virtually endless, so expecting someone to learn everything quickly is unrealistic. Even a seasoned veteran may need to refresh their memory from time to time.

But at what point do you say “enough is enough” and start reprimanding the employee? Welcome to the gray area, my friend.

RELATED: The Better Way to Train New Hires

What I consider tolerable may be completely different from you or another manager, but here are the rules I live by:

Set realistic expectations

Knowledge retention, especially for a detail-oriented industry like ours, is difficult. Don’t be afraid to set expectations, but keep them on the lower end.

As the saying goes, “If you don’t expect anything then you can never be disappointed.”

For example, let your employee know they should be able to capably clean a filter and backwash a pump in X amount of time, balance water in Y amount of time, etc.


When newbies in the field run into something they’re unfamiliar with, they often go into panic mode. (Cue the frantic phone calls.) Once you’ve helped them through, revisit the issue when they’re away from the job site and better able to focus on what you’re saying.

So yes, you should generally expect to repeat things a lot, but eventually, they will get it. Just hang in there and keep moving forward.


“You lost your brush again?” There’s few things more frustrating to me than when an employee loses a piece of equipment. As we all know, pool equipment and tools are very expensive, so constantly replacing those things is irritating. (I’m just waiting for the day someone comes back from the field and tells me they don’t know where their vacuum system went.)

I would put this problem in the “performance” bucket. Simply put, an employee is not performing their job if they are not coming back with all of their supplies.

How can you solve this problem? I’ve tried everything from creating a checklist and requiring them to show me their tools after the day is over. Those things worked, but only for a short time. The best solution I’ve found is to make them pay for anything they lose. (You’ll be surprised how much longer nets and brushes last!)

RELATED: Tips for Hiring and Training Service Techs

This also applies to equipment condition. My employees are liable for anything outside of standard wear and tear, which helps me keep costs down and encourages them to be more careful with company equipment.

Take, for example, a net, which should last longer than a week. If your employee keeps coming back with torn nets and doesn’t have a darn good reason why, he or she will have to replace it. (Cases like this also present great training opportunities — if a tech keeps coming back with torn nets, they’re likely using your equipment incorrectly. Re-train them to prevent this issue from coming up again.)

Again, what you consider “normal use” is completely up to you, but you get the point.


I remember getting regular calls from an employee, always at the end of the day, saying he ran out of chemicals because he “forgot” to stock up the night before or the day of. While it’s not the end of the world if the alkalinity was at 80 for an extra week, or the stabilizer was at 40 instead of the 50 that I prefer, it’s the principle of the matter.

You should also consider this a performance problem because without the right equipment, your new tech is unable to perform the job as intended. If forgetfulness is a regular problem, nip it in the bud by establishing expectations (“To perform well in this job, I need you to make sure your truck is stocked with everything you need for the day. Is that something you think you can do?”), revisiting the issue as needed (“We talked last week about keeping your truck stocked, but you’re still forgetting to top off your chemicals. What’s going on?”) and, if the pattern continues, letting them know their job is in jeopardy.


I saved this one for last because this is more than likely to be the cause of all of the other problems mentioned above. If you can figure out how to have your employee stay focused, all of these other “careless” problems should go away.

In my experience, there’s just a single thing that prevents employees from getting their jobs done: their cell phone. With music, games, texts, selfies, status updates and more, smartphones are essentially made for distracting people, making it difficult to do a job correctly.

RELATED: How to Hire Young Hotshots

Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to correct this issue. If it’s a company-issued phone, you can monitor the phone bill to see how much time is spent talking on the phone, how many texts are sent, etc., and reprimand employees who abuse their phone privileges. Aside from that, occasionally remind your team of your phone policy, whatever it may be, and take note of any sudden drop in productivity.

REMEMBER... one is perfect when you first hire them. And sometimes, when you’re frustrated after explaining how to backwash a filter for the hundredth time, you might think you hired a bad apple. Before you cut them loose, though, do whatever you can to mold them into the employee you want them to be. When that happens, it’s a win-win for everyone.

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