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Poor Performers - Knowing When To Let Go 

It isn’t a mistake to hire the wrong person. It is a mistake to keep them.
— Associate Coach Russell Schmidt

Nobody Wants To Be The Bad Guy.

It’s one thing to face challenges to your business out in the marketplace, but issues inside your company can be especially difficult. Few entrepreneurs relish the thought of having to confront a team member who isn’t performing. These conversations can be emotional, there can be legal repercussions, and other team members’ morale may take a hit.

Sometimes, however, you just know that it’s time to let someone go. If you handle it properly, you can come away from the experience with the confidence that you’ve done the right thing and done it well.

An Empty Uniform.

In the military, the expression “an empty uniform” describes someone who’s physically present but incapable of fulfilling their duties. Such a person is considered a liability to their unit.

Similarly, you may have people in your organization who just aren’t achieving your objectives for them or making a contribution. It’s easy to put off confronting them, thinking, “Maybe they’ll get better” or “Maybe they’re not so bad.”
Not dealing with the situation can be costly on several levels:
You’re paying this person a salary — money that could be invested in someone more appropriate.
The other team members may get the impression that you don’t care, and their work may suffer.
The rest of the team may resent having to pick up the slack for this non-performing team member.

It’s especially difficult to come to the realization that someone you’ve worked with for a long time is no longer performing. Loyalty may convince you to hold on to the

Two Firing Situations.

Most issues with employees fall into one of two general categories: non-negotiable and negotiable.

Non-negotiable situations are those in which a team member violates a fundamental company groundrule or even a law. Whether or not you should let this person go is a clear choice: Through their actions, they've made the decision for you. Of course, it’s always wise to consult a lawyer to make sure you handle the dismissal in a way that doesn’t leave you exposed to the danger of future messes or repercussions; but this is usually a fairly simple, if unpleasant, process.

The second type of scenario is subtler, and the decision to fire more difficult. Perhaps a team member continually fails to develop the competence you need from them. Perhaps they aren’t challenged by their duties or engaged in their role, and in their boredom, turn to gossiping or spreading negative sentiments to other team members. Perhaps there are extenuating personal circumstances that just seem to keep coming up, keeping them from fulfilling their duties, and putting the onus on others to fill in.

These and other employee performance issues call for action — the sooner the better. But there's room for negotiation about what the change should look like.

Knowing how to proceed in these situations is much easier when you have a framework in place to give consistency to your decisions and strategies.

A Unique Ability® Approach.

The philosophy of Unique Ability® holds that everyone has an inherent set of unique talents and passions that motivates them and also offers them their greatest opportunities for success. When someone isn’t engaged in their role or isn’t capable of creating results, you can be sure they’re not using their Unique Ability®.

If you find yourself in the position of having to address someone’s performance, you might feel any number of emotions — anger, fear, guilt, confusion. Approaching the situation from the perspective of Unique Ability can make it easier to deal with these feelings by keeping you focused on what’s best for you, your team member, and your company. You will be better off having someone in that role who brings unique talent and passion to the job. Likewise, the person who isn’t performing will be better off in a role where they feel they have something unique to contribute.

If a team member has been a good employee in the past but they’ve outgrown their role or stopped performing, perhaps you can transition them into a new or different or role in the organization. Having an honest conversation with them about the reality of the situation is the first step. From there, you may be able to plan together how to better use their Unique Ability, with specific measures so you both know

When It’s Time To Let Go.

Not every team member will make it into your “future company.” If someone’s Unique Ability can’t be properly used, either because it’s not a fit with the company or because some personal issue blocks them from tapping into it, it’s best for you, and for them, if you part ways. This may sound like spin to make you feel better about making a hard decision, but in practice, it’s a simple truth: Where there’s no capability, there’s no growth or passion — for either of you.

Creating a process for handling these situations in advance helps take the guesswork and confusion out of individual cases. It’s important to balance clear communication — in order to reduce speculation — with plenty of privacy and respect.

You can complete your working relationship with someone in a way that recognizes their past work, and that reflects a commitment to free them to experience the best possible future. They may not appreciate it at the time, but you will ultimately rest easy in the knowledge that there was a compassionate rationale behind your decision. Everyone deserves the best chance to use their Unique Ability — and that opportunity simply may not be with your organization.

© 2007 The Strategic Coach
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