YourefiredYou’re Fired! It’s never easy, but it is an important part of the Executive Role

Thankfully, it doesn’t happen too often. But every now and again, if you’re doing your job, you will conclude that it’s no longer worth the time and energy trying to help an employee improve. Assuming you’ve done everything in your power to communicate the problem and the consequences of not improving (and it’s still not working), then it’s time to pull the trigger. You are a manager; not a psychiatrist! But, before you organise the execution, make sure that you test your thinking.

Firing Justified?

There are 4 indicators that show the process hasn’t worked/is unlikely to work.

  1. There’s been no change at all.
  2. There’s been minimal change.
  3. Performance improved temporarily, but it was short-lived.
  4. Performance is worse than before.

No Change At All:

An employee may go through the entire performance improvement process without any change in behaviour.  Some managers internalise this, turning the blame inwards. They see an employees’ failure as a reflection of their own (lack of) managerial skills. They play an endless ‘what if’ game (“What if I moved him to a new role?”; “If the 2013 goals had been crystal clear, would we be looking at a different outcome?”) and so on. However, the central point is that ‘employees own their performance’. Your need to make the goalposts crystal clear and support in every way you can. After that, it’s up to the employee to score the goals (and there’s no spectators allowed on the pitch).

A Little But Not Enough:

A little change is more likely than no change at all.  In fact, a small amount of change in an employee can indicate movement in the right direction.  For example, you wouldn’t expect a miserable receptionist to become warm and effusive overnight or a sloppy and disorganised service technician to become the Patron Saint of Neatness. As time passes, however, you should expect to see real improvement.  If the initial small changes in performance don’t eventually morph into larger, significant changes, you may never get the kind of performance you need. Warm the bullet!

Temporary Improvement, But Short-Lived:

Sometimes an employee will make dramatic changes immediately after a performance interview.  Instead of arriving 10 minutes late every day, she turns up 20 minutes early. Reports that were overdue for months appear neatly bound on your desk.  Or the employee is no longer the Grinch and is suddenly courteous and helpful.   Dramatic changes like these can look great, but sometimes don’t last very long.   People who make abrupt and dramatic changes in  behaviour are often changing for you rather than for themselves and return to their former habits. The managerial ‘trick’ here is to recognise and reinforce the efforts being made. You want to shift the person ‘up a gear’ and onto the next rung of the performance ladder – if that’s possible. Sometimes, it’s not. Load up the chamber!

Things Actually Get Worse:

Every now and then, an employee’s performance will actually get worse following a performance review.  Of course, you may have to take some of the responsibility for this.  It’s possible you did or said something during the interview that confused or upset the employee.  Maybe you committed yourself to something and failed to live up to your end of the bargain.  Whatever the reason, the fact that the individual’s performance gets worse, not better, is something you can’t ignore. Swim back into the performance improvement process and see if this can be corrected; it’s worth one final rescue attempt.

It’s Not Me; it’s You!

If you’ve exhausted your toolkit and performance is still dragging along the bottom then it’s time to take on one of the most difficult parts of the executive role. Some people won’t be happy in Heaven. But, you can’t spend all of your managerial life trying to help them overcome ‘issues’. This is not marriage guidance counselling. It’s a divorce and they are leaving the house. It’s tough, but that’s what you are paid to do.

Here’s the rub. If you are 30+, in a managerial role and haven’t fired more than 3 people to date, you may not be doing a great job yourself.  In fact, you may be accepting underperformance rather than tackling this. Hey, take a quick look. Maybe that barrel is pointing towards you. As they say in the Christmas Panto, look out, he’s behind you!

Have a good one



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