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When to part ways with a poor performer

When To Part Ways With a Poor Performer

How do you know when the right time is to let someone go? It’s a significant decision that you shouldn’t make lightly, because you know it’s going to have a major impact on their life?

The time to make the decision is… as soon as you know. We all know the inevitable answer long before we act.

Many leaders sit back and just hope that the person will improve. But hope isn’t a strategy. And when you’re dealing with a historically poor performer, it’s rarely the case that they lift to meet the minimum acceptable standard. 

The most commonly cited regret of great leaders as they reflect on their careers is that they didn’t move quickly enough to remove the people who they knew could not do the job.

So, here’s the rule of thumb. If you move twice as fast as you think you could, that would probably be about half as fast as you actually should.

In the meantime, while you’re avoiding and procrastinating on that decision, you’re sending a few pretty strong messages to your team:

  • It’s okay if you don’t perform because there aren’t any consequences for that
  • Your reward for being a good performer is that you get to do a bunch of extra work to compensate for the weak performers
  • I’m not really serious about the performance standards that I’ve said I’m going to set
  • You can all choose how you behave and perform, because it’s entirely up to you, and I won’t ask any more of you
  • I’d rather be seen as a nice person than a strong leader

What everyone around you sees is a weak leader, who’s afraid to deal with the obvious problem children in the team… and everyone knows who the weak performers are.

To help us cope, we tend to rationalize, so we often make up a cover story… and a common cover story is that we’re intentionally building a family culture. Have you ever heard someone say, “we’re more like a family than a business”? That’s not a good thing!

Families tolerate sh!t that they shouldn’t. Uncle Albert’s part of your family… so he turns up on Christmas Day, is three parts drunk by 11:00am, and makes inappropriate comments to his young nieces. 

But what does the family culture demand? Tolerance and acceptance: “Oh, don’t worry. It’s just Uncle Albert, and we can put up with it. It’s only once a year.” 

If your culture is like this, and you decide to accept any behavior or performance that people choose to turn up with, you’ve got a problem.

If you’re serious about performance, you need to free up your non-performers so that they can be successful in another organization… preferably, one of your competitors!

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