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
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
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