We have all had the question posed to us: “When was the last time you fired someone too soon?” After a couple of chuckles, everyone says, “Well, never.” But I would suggest the better question is, “Why have you delayed making the firing decision?” knowing well in advance it was the absolute right action. And almost everyone raises their hand. They have reasons or justifications to answer the WHY.
I believe the answer lies in whether you approach the decision with fear or with courage.
Let’s look at the fear approach. It all starts with, I fear that …. I fear I cannot afford the best person available in the country. I fear how others will view me and my decision. I fear the next person will be worse (that’s a powerful one). I fear the business will suffer while we work to replace the person. I fear we will lose institutional knowledge that no one else in the organization has. We have been friends since elementary school, and I fear even thinking about making this change. I fear other good people will leave. Our families socialize together, and I fear this will end. And the fears go on and on and on.
But what if we approach the situation with courage? Courage to make the hard decision but knowing it’s the right decision. The right decision for the team, the right decision for the company and the right decision for the employee. Yes, the employee.
Think of a time when you were unhappy in your job. Was it hard to get up in the morning? Did you look forward to going to work? Were you excited to spend the day with co-workers? My guess is that the answer to all of these questions is no. In a performance culture, underperforming employees stick out like a sore thumb. And they will often self-select out.
What would be the impact to your company if, instead of a weak person, you had the absolute best person in that position? If it is sales, you will drive significantly greater revenues. If it is marketing, you will grow your brand and drive greater leads to your sales organization, resulting in greater revenues. Maybe it’s in finance and accounting where you will have greater visibility into strategic ways to fund your growth, manage and reduce costs, thus becoming more profitable. Or maybe it’s in engineering where you will develop cutting edge-products or solutions that set you apart from your competition and allow you to gain first-mover advantage. I think the better question to ask is can you afford NOT to have the absolute best person in every seat?
What would be the impact to your company culture if you had the best person in the country in that seat? It would be significant. If you know the employee is underperforming and the employee knows too, most everyone around them knows as well. Often, this will result in poor performance by other team members as the unstated, but clear and loud message is performance or quality does not matter to our organization. If it did, management would surely have done something by now. Thus, the perception is, this behavior or level of performance is acceptable.
Having the courage to make the right decision will be felt by those close to the situation. We owe it to the underperforming employee and those around the individual to act with courage. And that is not to say we crucify the underperforming employee. Quite the contrary. It is also important to keep emotion out of the discussion. Be calm and be factual. Someone once thought the employee would be a valuable member of the team. We owe it to the employee to treat them with dignity and respect. In the end this too will be observed by other employees.
Fear or courage? How will you approach your next underperforming team member opportunity?