Most organizations I have worked with appropriately obsess about recruiting and retaining the right people. Volumes of work are written about retaining staff and keeping them engaged. (Bev Kaye’s Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em is a good example.) What unfortunately gets short shrift is whether or not the right people are being fired. It is a less popular topic because, admittedly, none of us particularly enjoys terminating the employment of another person. But, for organizations to reach their potential, they need to be rigorously focused on this question of dismissing the right people. Without addressing this issue, organizations get stale and suffer incompetence too long. So allow me to give longer shrift to this important and sensitive topic.
Start with the actively disengaged. In a very popular Gallup study it was determined that workers who are actively disengaged cost the U.S. economy several billions of dollars each year. These employees are less productive and less effective than their counterparts, and what’s worse, they can actually get in the way of your success. We are not talking about employees who are simply less engaged than others. It’s the actively disengaged people who get in your way, create problems, cause rancor, and are generally disruptive. Sometimes this occurs with longtime employees who were at one time quite valuable, and that makes it even tougher to deal with. Still, I have worked with dozens of situations like this, and I’ve never worked with an executive who, after making a tough decision to let someone go, said, “I did that too soon.”
Move quickly on mis-hires. In a matter of months, sometimes even weeks, we can identify those who do not fit your organization’s needs. Frequently, in an effort to save face on making a bad hire, we do all we can to invest in development and coaching to help someone who simply doesn’t have the right skill set or cultural fit. The costs of doing “failure work,” and the opportunity costs of not having the job done well are huge. Don’t make the mistake of waiting too long after you have identified a mis-hire. Instead of throwing good money after bad, cut your losses fast. This is not to suggest for a moment that the hire is a bad individual, rather, that you made a bad hiring decision. Be swift, rip the Band-Aid off, and get it over with by either redeploying them in a position for which they are better suited, or let them go. This is not to be crass about people’s careers, but you have an organization to lead, and the employee will be better off in a position that suits them well.
Evaluate your talent (more than once per year). Performance reviews have the potential to be useful, but when they come around annually, too much time passes to make good decisions. Further, many performance reviews fail to evaluate both potential and performance. Leaders need to routinely evaluate and review their team members’ talent, and, more importantly, they need to regularly assess the potential for continued growth. Doing so will allow you to make good decisions about additional development, support resources, coaching, and of course, career development. Inevitably, some people will not measure up to your standards, and you need to take a good hard look at the impact this is having. Only then can you make decisions about their continued employment and contribution to the organization.
Build your bench strength. Having quality people ready for new challenges is key to being prepared to take action. Managers are frequently crippled by the fact that they have no other options if they let a non-performer go, and as such, allow poor performance to persist. By having a solid bench, leaders are able to make the necessary tough decisions to dismiss employees who aren’t achieving expectations. Make this investment in the future by cultivating talent at all levels of your organization, and when it is time to make changes, you will be ready.
Managing your talent is one of the critical roles of a leader, but it is not always pleasant—just ask any of us who have had to terminate someone’s employment. Answering the question “Are You Firing the Right People?” is not a question devoid of sensitivity—quite the contrary. It involves a careful and thorough look at what’s best for the organization. Ironically, it is often what is best for the individual as well.