Can’t we just leave our most loyal employees alone even though we have to work around them sometimes? They’ve been with us since the beginning and they stayed with us when times were really bad. It’s OK if they can’t keep up. We can carry them for a while. It’s not right and not fair to just let them go. Going to that extreme would be overreacting wouldn’t it?
Is this the tape playing in your head? If so, then it’s time to change the music and perhaps upgrade to digital format.
As a manager, one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do is to let someone go. Yes, it’s harder than being the only car on the road at 6am Christmas morning because something went wrong at the plant. It’s harder than missing your baby’s first steps, your daughter’s recital, or your son’s touchdown. And it’s even harder than business travel on your anniversary . . . for the first 10 years of your marriage. But a manager’s job is always to make the best long-term decision for the company while being helpful, respectful, and kind to your employees.
Be Intellectually Honest
If you are intellectually honest and objective while you are trying to get the right people, with the right skills, in the right seats on the bus, you will undoubtedly come across someone in your organization that is out of place. Perhaps you can remember just five years ago when that person saved a key client relationship, or stayed until 11 PM one night to get an important bid package out the door. But they just don’t seem to be able to pull their weight today. They’re in over their head. They aren’t keeping up. You have a little voice telling you that you can find someone better for that position.
There’s no doubt that EVERYONE in the firm was initially hired because they were able to do their job. But all jobs change. As your company grows quickly, change will include new roles emerging and old roles providing little ongoing value. It will become impossible for people to wear as many hats as they used to – there’s too much going on and coordination requires too much energy and time. It will also become possible for people to specialize and this creates an opportunity for you to increase the level of talent in the organization. In fact it’s imperative to “hire up” in key positions in order to break through the unavoidable adolescent growth stage of business called No Man’s Land. Have you thought about the skills your firm would need if it were to make 10 or 100 times as many sales a month?
Can the Job be Done Better?
Ask yourself, “Can I imagine this job being done better?” “Have I ever seen someone do this sort of job with more skill, more quickly and more efficiently?” If the answers are yes, then you owe it to yourself and to the organization to expect and obtain that level of performance. Step one is always to train, coach and counsel the incumbent. Everyone deserves to have clear goals and expectations and to be given the tools to achieve the results. If the experience level for the job has changed, requiring a 4 year engineering degree to minimize design risk, or requiring 10 years of sales management experience because the CEO cannot continue to coach every salesman, for example; then perhaps coaching will not be sufficient. If the person cannot learn from the coaching or cannot meet the job requirements, then they must be either moved into an existing, open job where they can meet the requirements (don’t just ‘create’ a job or move a poor performer around) or they must be let go to allow them to find a fulfilling job that they can master and at which they can excel.
This is often a relief to an employee who knew they were failing to meet expectations, and can be done humanely with compassion, assistance in finding another job, and perhaps even some amount of severance pay in recognition of those past heroic efforts. You might be surprised at the thank you note you get when this person is able to succeed in a new role somewhere else. This happens much more often than you might think it would.
They Fire Themselves
A wise man once told me that if you provide clear expectations, coaching and tools and the employee still cannot perform the job, then they have fired themselves. Your role is to assist these people out of the business and to search high and low for the person who can master the function and bring enormous future value to the organization. Those capable people are out there and your company deserves to have them on your team.
Kim Denney is a Partner in the Houston office of Newport Board Group. Kim recognizes the cost of failing to challenge the status quo and the significant business value that comes from bringing in new perspectives. firstname.lastname@example.org
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