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How Pruning Can Help Build an Awesome Workplace Culture

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I don't like terminating employees -- even if the person really deserves it.

There was a time when I thought that even if the worker was a jerk or simply didn't “fit in” with the team dynamic, they deserved to get a second -- maybe even a third -- chance.

I thought wrong.

Employee coaching and guidance is a wonderful thing, but if you're expending more effort than the employee to help them fit in or change behaviors and attitude, you need to wise up. Consult your HR manager, and do it: Make the brave move that will yield results for you down the road.

This is one of the more difficult lessons I've had to learn over the years as an agent-for-change and an organizational leader. If you want a positive workplace culture that your employees will love you for, you will, at some point, need to say goodbye to those who do not belong on your team.

Related: Thanks for Everything, Now Get Out! When Founders Get Fired.

In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins outlines a painful truth in such a way that ended up -- for me -- being one of the anchor points in his book, “You are a bus driver. The bus, your company, is at a standstill, and it’s your job to get it going. You have to decide where you're going, how you're going to get there, and who's going with you…leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with “where” but with “who.” They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. And they stick with that discipline -- first the people, then the direction -- no matter how dire the circumstances.”

It's under this banner of perspective and confidence that one needs to move forward in order to achieve the desired result. Here’s how to begin thoughtfully down this road:

Be prepared for (temporary) aloneness

What Collins doesn't mention in Good to Great is that becoming a change-agent can be terribly lonely and unsettling at times.

When you're rightfully terminating employees who aren't meant to proceed on your company’s journey (and who won't agree with your decision) and you can't share with the remaining personnel the reason(s) for these terminations, you quickly conclude how this can be a singular experience that feels isolating and disenchanting.

But keep faith in your vision for the company. Positive results will come and once they do, it will become a force-multiplier.

Seek the right counsel

A trusted resource from outside your organization will be absolutely essential.

Company culture changes of any variety and depth move as the earth’s tectonic plates do: Everyone is impacted -- everyone. Seeking counsel from a trusted source from outside the company will ensure objectivity and unbiased feedback.

Related: Field a Team of 'A' Players at Your Startup

Although everyone loves progress no one likes change

Aren’t they the same? Well, no.

One can have change without progress, but to enjoy long-lasting, sustainable and healthy progress you need change. And not all leadership teams know how to implement it over the long term. It takes a lot of diligent work, and you need to communicate your objectives far in advance.

Do not underestimate the effects of change. People do not enjoy it, desire it or -- much of the time -- understand it.

When you see success, share it with all

But I did all the hard work.

Of course this isn't the case -- no real change is won without a team effort. When teams get the glory over individuals, you're awarded with a dynamic workplace culture that endures. Arnold H. Glasow said, “A good leader takes a little more than his share of the blame and a little less than his share of the credit.”

Successful companies have learned over time that removing employees with disagreeable temperaments or poor workplace behaviors from your team -- as painful and difficult as this task can be at times -- is mission-critical for achieving a healthy, vibrant and progressive workplace culture.

But it's not a search-and-destroy mission. Stay focused on your top performers, keep observant of those who are not, and you’ll be stronger for it over the long haul. 

Related: What You Need to Do to Make a Midlife Career Change

Patrick Proctor

Written By

Patrick Proctor is vice president of operations at Stash Tea Co. in Portland, Ore., and is an experienced organizational development, HR and strategic business planning leader. He writes about workplace issues.