There is a lot of literature about the importance of hiring the right people for your organization, but I have noticed there is less conversation about the importance of letting people go. This is unfortunate, as I believe the most important decision we make as leaders is not when to hire someone, but rather when to fire someone. One of my roles as a leader is to protect my organization’s culture, and sometimes this means letting people go who don’t fit.
At ACHIEVE, we have a very intentional hiring process. Our interview sessions are carefully designed to focus on making sure candidates fit our culture as it is defined by our core values, and that they fit the tasks of the position.
However, after many years of using this intentional hiring approach, we still end up getting it wrong sometimes. While I’m sure it’s possible to perfect our hiring process even further, I’ve come to believe that there will inevitably always be some hiring decisions we make that are not right.
When we realize someone is not a good fit for our organization’s culture or the tasks they were hired to do – and after attempts to coach, train, or discipline fail – it’s time to step up and make the all-important decision to let someone go.
Too often I see organizations hold on to underperforming or disruptive employees for far too long. Intuition, performance markers, and occasionally even other employees can tell managers that this person is not working out, and yet they can still be slow to take action. Here are five reasons I’ve seen leaders give for being resistant to letting someone go:
- They have a unique skill set, which is not easily replaced.
Jim from accounting is just too valuable. He may be a jerk, but his expertise would really be missed if he was let go, and so he is allowed to stay while others have to “tippy toe” around him. In spite of his valuable skill set, his toxic behavior negatively impacts other people’s engagement and performance in the organization. As a leader, you need to remember that no one is irreplaceable – the short-term pain of letting someone go who is not a good fit will be worth the long-term gain in organizational health.
- The employee is a nice person.
Underperforming employees aren’t always indifferent or mean. Firing someone who is nice is always difficult, and yet leaving someone on the team who doesn’t “pull their weight” will eventually bring the rest of the team down. As a leader, know that colleagues will feel the impact of low-performing team members and that your role is to make sure teams can perform at their peak – this means that everyone needs to be competent.
- There is no time to find a new person.
Some managers delay firing because the hiring process can be time consuming and take people away from their other work. For those who believe this, what they may fail to recognize is that the underperforming or disruptive employee will also continue to take more of management’s time than necessary over the long term. Although hiring and training does require a short-term investment of energy and time, it pales in comparison to the ongoing requirements of managing an employee who is performing poorly.
- You hope things will get better.
Many managers continue to believe that things will get better if the employee is given yet another chance. As a leader, I do believe in second chances, and even third chances, but not fourth, fifth, and so on. If your initial efforts to coach and train aren’t paying off, they most likely won’t pay off if you continue them either.
- You worry about how it will affect morale.
Letting someone go is not only hard for the person being fired – it can be difficult for those they work with as well. However, most often those who have been working with the individual will actually feel a sense of relief that the person has been let go, especially if you handle the termination with respect and care. Remember that morale is also affected when you don’t let someone go who needs to be.
One person can have a destructive impact on your organization. If you have an employee who does not do their work at a high enough level, is indifferent about being there, whose behavior is disruptive, or who does not live by your core values, keeping them on is an unhealthy choice.
Letting these types of people stay inevitably means leadership is not holding employees accountable for performance issues, or to the core values of the organization. This sends the wrong message to other employees – we are essentially showing people that it’s okay to not perform at the level we say we should perform at, or that it’s okay to not behave in the way we say everyone at the organization should behave. Over time, this will negatively affect the attitudes, engagement, and performance of the whole organization.
On the other hand, when we do let people go, we show staff that we are willing to protect our culture and that we are committed to being the kind of organization that has high standards. This is the type of organization people can be proud to be a part of.
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