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  • Writer's pictureMark Olivito

Saying Goodbye: Never Easy, Always Needed

Updated: Jul 1, 2022

Parting Ways. Firing. Termination. Saying goodbye. One of the most unpleasant aspects of running any type of organization. And unfortunately, one that is simply unavoidable.

All organization in some fashion conform to a bell curve, where a small % of elites and NON-performers. Lets deal with the Non-Performers, the left-hand side that may makes up as much as 10% of the workforce. We’ve all seen it. The picture of the “walking dead” that for whatever reason, doesn’t fit into a culture, struggles to find their groove for extended periods of time, or simply can’t get it done.

Sometimes the whole world sees it, except for the people that can make the call. Or the people that CAN make the call see it clearly, but choose NOT to act. They rationalize a number of reasons for the lack of results and hope that a magical turnaround is around the corner. Unfortunately, what they bank on for the turnaround is HOPE and TIME. Rarely will those two ingredients combine for a performance turnaround.

Business is a contact sport, and it needs to be managed.

Would you ever consider running a marathon with 12 lb ankle weights? Is it not harder to run to the top of a snowy mountain pulling Paulie on a sleigh? Of course it is.

The same thing happens when leaders refuse to act and part ways with people that clearly need to go: They create extra weight to the team and company as they climb the mountain. The market is usually challenging enough, carrying extra weight is a self-imposed challenge.

Rocky Old School Training: Pulling extra weight (on purpose)

Firing is not easy, and it is often emotionally draining. Jack Welch provides a framework in his classic book “Winning.”

3 Reasons For Termination

  1. Integrity Violations – No debates, be swift! Your businesses reputation is on the line and reputations that are damaged through lapses in integrity cannot be tolerated. I would go so far as to say it should not only be swift, but PUBLIC. People need to know when lines are crossed, and if they are there is zero tolerance. Managers need not agonize over this.

  2. Economic – Let’s face it. Many businesses need to trim costs for survival mode, and sometimes eliminating jobs of a select few, ensures the survival/well-being of many. This is difficult, but a brutal reality in an ultra-competitive world.

  3. Poor Performance – The most difficult for any manager. Comes with challenges, obstacles and the “walking dead” syndrome indicate above.

Dealing With Poor Performance: Ensure No Surprises

  • Set Clear Expectations. Make sure they are on paper.

  • Gain commitment that expectations can be met, and HOW they will be met, and WHEN.

  • Provide “appropriate” level of support, training and resources to deliver against those expectations.

    • The key word is appropriate. Managers need to provide support and training, but not so much that it creates a black hole of over-managing. People need training, mentors and to be shown the way. More than one time is certainly appropriate, as well as different methods if one does not work. But spending in-ordinate amounts of time to get the employee to see the light? Red flag

  • Check in at the appropriate intervals.

    • When expectations are not being met against the commitments, be direct.

    • Don’t sugar coat. Failure to communicate that performance is not meeting the expectations outlined and agreed too will make the final day more difficult. Don’t let multiple milestones missed go unchecked.

  • Develop a “course correction plan” with a new, tighter timeline for check-ins.

    • Have the EMPLOYEE own the turnaround plan, how to get back on track. Brainstorm ideas. Don’t over-resource but DO be creative.

    • Communicate that there is now a heightened sense of urgency to perform with termination as a possible and likely outcome.

    • Many would advise documenting the “heightened urgency” to start getting results. And having the employee sign this. Not a bad idea….

    • Expect a positive outcome. Encourage. Be a cheerleader.

    • Turnarounds ARE possible and when they happen everyone wins. But the responsibility for individual performance is on the individual.

  • If no performance, you need to part ways. Not on the first “course correction plan” but certainly after 3 attempts. This is where “no surprises” plays out.

  • No humiliation.

    • Not meeting performance expectations is often NOT a reflection on the person’s intelligence, ability or drive. Other forces could always be at work, which should be uncovered early when results are not being met, and planned for. But Managers have a responsibility to deliver results, not explain why people can’t achieve them as the primary course of action. Be human and show empathy. If you have done your job as a manager and ensured no surprises, you have done your part.

Anybody that says “they don’t mind firing” probably needs to have their heart checked. It is one of the most difficult things in business. But the manager that is either unwilling or incapable of doing this when the time comes (and it will for all managers) needs to re-think their own capabilities as a leader.

Leaders ensure their teams can compete in the race. Business certainly is a marathon. Don’t put extra weights on your team by not confronting the reality of a non-performer…. marathons are hard enough. So is the marketplace.

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