Making the decision to terminate an employee for poor performance can be gut wrenching. Most business owners want to give their people every chance to succeed, but you can’t continue to invest in poor performers indefinitely. Still, it’s difficult to know exactly when it’s time to call it quits.
The following five questions, based on the work of Rick Brocato and Marc De Simone, are invaluable when deciding between investing more time and effort in developing a poor performing employee or throwing in the proverbial towel:
1. Does the employee clearly understand your expectations? More than 50 percent of the disciplinary actions we’ve dealt with in our careers have had at least some aspect of misunderstanding between the employee and the manager. First, explain your expectations in detail. Next ask your employee to show how they will fulfill the requirements. This will help to eliminate miscommunication.
2. Have you removed all organizational roadblocks? Organizational speed bumps may include policies, procedures, internal politics or a lack of critical resources. Removing hurdles helps employees to be more effective. However, don’t let yourself get sucked into the employee’s personal problems.
Management only has the power to remove roadblocks that are internal to the organization. You can’t be responsible for removing employee-generated roadblocks. Only the employee can deal with his or her own personal issues.
3. Is the employee fully trained and has he or she had enough time to practice? While your employee professed experience during the hiring phase, all organizations are unique. Different computer systems, policies, procedures and corporate culture can prevent good employees from being immediately successful. Make sure the employee is appropriately trained and has had sufficient time to practice the new skills.
4. Have you motivated the employee to perform? Most employees need both rewards and consequences to perform up to their full potential. An environment that is skewed heavily to either one or the other will result in dysfunction. Giving employees praise for a job well done often results in them repeating the behavior. Catch employees doing something right and tell them about it.
Likewise, employees must understand that poor performance may result in discipline and/or termination. Avoiding negative feedback may make things easier for the manager in the short-term, but it’s unfair to the employee and will result in greater problems in the long-term.
If you can answer the first four questions with an unequivocal “Yes,” you are ready to consider number five:
5. Is the employee capable and/or willing to do the work? An employee who is not “capable” is easier to understand. Some jobs aren’t suited to certain individuals. Perhaps the physical requirements are too strenuous or the intellectual demands are above his or her cognitive capabilities.
If this is the case, you might be tempted to move the employee to a new role. We urge pursuing this option with great caution. Termination is usually the best course. Under any circumstances, you need to examine your hiring process. How did an incapable employee get the job in the first place?
Sometimes the person is fully capable, and for whatever reason, internal to them, is unwilling to perform. At this point, it’s time to end their employment. You cannot continue to pay someone who is unwilling to do his/her job.
It’s tough to know when it’s time to dismiss a poor-performing employee. Answering the five questions above will help you to avoid terminating an employee before you have taken reasonable steps to help him/her succeed. They will also keep you from throwing good money away by continuing to invest in a lost cause.