No one deliberately takes on an unproductive employee, but what do you do when you find you've hired one? According to Sarita Peng, principal at Chicago-based human relations consulting firm ZweigWhite, you must have and enforce a disciplinary process.

“The first step is to sit down and have a conversation to provide warning and make him or her aware of the problem,” Peng says. Provide concrete examples of what's been done wrong. Explain how things could have been handled differently. Establish a time frame for when improvement is expected. In addition, make expectations clear from the beginning and set specific goals so you can measure improvement and success.

Establish Benchmarks That's why Carolina Building Group in Charlotte, N.C., benchmarks the performance of its salespeople. “We have base-level expectations for production,” says Jack Ramsaur, sales and operations manager. Software helps Carolina Building Group track how many leads were issued and how many dollars were produced. The company explains all that during the two weeks of initial training. When they don't make a sale, salespeople must call in from a prospect's house to review the presentation.

Probationary Period Well aware of the possibility of a new hire's potential to crash and burn — although most employees have been there for at least six years — The Board Store Home Improvements in La Crosse, Wis., usually puts people on a 30- to 60-day probationary period before permanently hiring them. If an installer, for example, seems not to be working out but shows promise, says general manager Miles Wilkins, “we may switch them around and try letting them work with a different crew. Sometimes two good people may not click.”

Giving employees ample opportunity to be successful is exactly the right thing to do, Peng says, as long as you confront problems head-on rather than waiting and hoping things will work themselves out.

At Carolina Building Group, new salespeople sit down with the company owner and review what happened during the past month. “We give small assignments to help you get better,” Ramsaur says. “Follow-up is key. The real crux is they have to want to learn, want to work.”

If you choose to fire an employee, Peng says, make sure you follow your handbook when it comes to disciplinary actions. Give at least one warning. “Otherwise there could be legal trouble.”