Deciding to fire can be a tough choice.  In the last blog, we explored the reasons to let an employee go, this blog will focus on another option, which is to support your teammate rather than letting them go. 

Reasons to support:

If an employee is not working out, instead of rushing to release that individual, you may want to closely examine the reasons.  Choosing to support somebody by providing guidance for improvement, switching roles to better match their skillset with the work requirements, or changing teams could be the better decision.

Here are some common reasons why you would choose to support:

1. You were unclear in the hiring process.  If you did not articulate the job requirements and if you did not train the person adequately in the onboarding process where they are set up for success and feel safe to contribute fully, you should not let them go because you are responsible for the mismatch.  You should give the person adequate training so they can win at their job.  This happens often because we are usually rushed to fill a position and choose to throw them into the fire with insufficient training. 

2. Realignments and changing business needs.  If the business has changed and you need people to do other jobs than what they were doing or if you had a realignment and created a skillset redundancy, you may want to move them to another team where they would be able to contribute and thrive.  Quality employees with a fierce skillset and a learning mindset can be versatile enough to be plugged in elsewhere to positively impact; they are people you want around.   

3. You haven’t managed them well.  Part of the success of an employee can be attributed to how well they were supported.  Have you had regular meetings with your direct reports to learn what the person needs to succeed?  Did you set clear goals and expectations measurable with benchmarks, deadlines, and a general timeline for completion?  Have you had 1:1 performance discussions where they are aware of their gaps, and you have created an opportunity to invite their feedback to co-create an improvement plan with outcomes you are both comfortable with?  Have you had career development conversations where you understand their short and long-term motivations and dreams and how they fit into their daily tasks while offering opportunities for support, growth, and development?  Generally, have you be a present thought partner enabling their best efforts and clearing the path for their great work?

If you had a conversation about their struggles, do they know exactly what to do to improve and how their progress will be measured?  Are they aware of the timeframe and consequences if they break the mutual agreement and no improvement is made?  Making sure you have done everything possible to support the person matters.  If they still have not responded well to your assistance, it could be time to let the person go.

4. You have not kept them engaged or focused on their wellbeing.  If an employee is underperforming, it could be because they are burned out.  They were given more work than exceeded any normal human’s capacity, so they shut down, and so did their productivity.  They could also be dissatisfied with their job if they have been in the same role for a long time and they have not been offered growth opportunities, they could be showing signs of dissatisfaction and frustration by not being challenged by the work.  They can also feel resentful that all their time will work and they do not feel supported in having time off.  Before Thanksgiving of 2014, President Joe Biden sent a memo to his staff reminding them that he did not expect nor want anyone to “miss or sacrifice important family obligations for work.”  That includes celebrations, such as birthdays, anniversaries, or weddings, and time needed to step away from work due to an illness or death in the family.  For Biden, it was an unwritten rule for staff to take time off for family responsibilities or wellbeing.  Workplace cultures where there are no boundaries between professional and personal and being on call 24 hours a day is not conducive to bringing out people’s best, even if it may seem so in the short term.  Rewarding overwork can be detrimental.

If you have determined that you did not offer the proper support in the hiring and managing stage or if the business needs have changed, there are still things you can do to support your people.  You can move them laterally to another team or another department to thrive and be happier somewhere else in the company.  Perhaps, they have been in sales for many years, and an opportunity in marketing would be a breath of fresh air.  Or maybe they’re in tech or operations and would enjoy a career pivot to manage people because that is what gives them joy.  Separate the person from the job; if they are great, where else can they go?  Around 2010, Salesforce wondered how it can be just as easy to transfer within the company as it was to leave so they created their Opportunity Open Market initiative.  After each quarterly release, software developers could transfer teams.  There would be internal job fairs to facilitate that transfer.  It allowed people to find what motivated them and work on things that challenged and excited them.  It was so successful it was integrated into the broader company. 

5. Your company decided to downsize.  If the company is going through a tough time and you must make layoffs, what are all your options?  The worst thing about layoffs is not only what you do to the people who leave but what you do to the people who stay because if they are expected to double their work, they end up losing trust and getting frustrated.  Is it possible to do furloughs instead?  Would anybody on the team volunteer for some time off because they are in a more comfortable position and wish to spend more time with their family?  Can you agree on a temporary promotion freeze if it means your people can stay?  Every team and culture are different; choose what works best for the group.  In 2008, Barry-Wehmiller got hit hard with the recession, so the board put pressure on the CEO Bob Chapman to make layoffs, but he believed in committing to people like family.  Instead of firing, he had each person take a four-week furlough of unpaid vacation whenever they wanted because he thought it was better for all to hurt a little than some to suffer a lot with a job loss.  As a result, morale went up because people saw leaders sacrificing the numbers for them, so they started to care for each other even more.  They would give their days to those who could not afford furlough.

Deciding to let a team member go is a big choice.  Before pulling the trigger, you want to understand the reasons for doing it and whether they are valid.  If the fault lies with you, you should give your people another chance.  If you have genuinely done everything you can, but they still show no improvement, do not waste one more minute.

Quote of the day: “On what high-performing companies should be striving to create: A great place for great people to do great work.” – Marilyn Carlson, former CEO of Carlson Companies

[The next blog in this firing series 3/3 will focus on the best ways to go about firing]

As a Leadership Coach, I partner with leaders to support their teams to do their best work, contact me to learn more.

How can you partner with your direct report for success?