Here is a pattern I am seeing across the landscape in organizations, in fact I think it has become a disease, which I call “triggeritus”. It means we have managers who can’t pull the trigger (more on that in a minute) on termination.
Laura is a manager and Sue works for her as a sale person. Sue is a new associate, and has done a terrible job the last 12 months and is completely incompetent despite every effort at coaching, advice, development. She just isn’t “cutting the mustard”. She is clearly a massive hiring mistake. She knows it, Laura knows it, and worst of all everyone on the team knows it.
When I ask Laura why Sue is still employed by the company she gives me one of several answers, depending on the day I ask:
1) “Well, I know we should let her go, but I just want to give her every chance- I want to be fair”
2) “Sue has a big lead for a sale that she may close and I don’t want to potentially lose business.”
3) “It would be kind of cold to let someone go this close to the holiday.”(eight holidays have now passed)
4) “I am hoping my coaching will turn her around.”
Here is the real reason and I will be blunt: Laura doesn’t have the courage to fire Sue and the thought of it makes her break out in a cold sweat. She has an itchy trigger finger but can’t fire the shot. She won’t even point the gun.
Here is why, if you (or someone you know) are in this position I am asking (OK imploring) for you to take action now:
#1 — They aren’t going to change. If an employee has a track record of underperformance, they aren’t going to change. No miracle is going to happen, the town is not going to be saved, Lassie isn’t going to lead Timmy to safety. I am an optimist, but I have seen this time and time again; once someone has a track record of underperformance in that organization – it is not going to change. As a good friend of mine often says “a leopard does not change its spots.” They are in the wrong job in the wrong company reporting to the wrong manager. So stop waiting and do it.
#2 — The team is resentful. People on the team are very resentful about an underperformer being able to get away with it for so long, because they are performing and working hard and in their opinion, that employee is not being held to the same standard. They don’t think that is fair. They may not tell you, but they are talking about it. Oh yes, they are talking about it. In the lunch room, in the offices, in the cubes they are talking and complaining and venting to one another. They are also talking about you. They are saying “I can’t believe our manager can’t see this- why don’t they do something about it? I mean this has gone on way too long!” Morale is getting lower everyday due to your inaction.
#3 — The underperforming employee is not happy. They know they aren’t doing well. They can see the writing on the wall. They see the reactions from their coworkers, they aren’t dumb. They feel bad about getting up every morning and going to a job where they are clearly failing. They are confused because they have never failed before. No one likes to fail and they have this sick feeling in the pit of their stomach. They are waiting for the axe to fall but don’t know when it is going to happen and are puzzled it hasn’t happened already.
#4 — Service and sales and quality are being affected. An underperforming employee is affecting sales, service and quality. You don’t have the whole picture now, but when they leave the tales of woe will start to roll in and you will be shocked at how big of a negative impact they had. Customers and employees will tell you horror stories about their experiences. You will wish you would have acted sooner.
#5 — You are making excuses. You are making excuses, procrastinating and delaying something that everyone knows should be done. The excuses you give yourself to justify your inaction will result in regret later. Your irrational fear is exactly that- irrational. You have painted scenarios in your mind of how that person will react and how terrible that day will be. The reality is it is often less dramatic than you would have imagined. Don’t get me wrong, firing someone is never fun, it is not a pleasant experience that day, but once you get it over with- there can be a great sense relief for both parties. When I ask managers in my leadership programs “ what is the biggest mistake you have ever made in make in firing people ?” the answer is almost always “ I waited way too long to do it.”
Make sure that you follow legal guidelines and get help if you need it from you manager and from the Human Resources Department. They can tell you how to handle it, and how to protect your company or organization from liability.
Sometimes being a leader is tough, and you have to do things that aren’t pleasant or fun. No one said it would be easy, but that is what true leaders do- they take action that needs to be taken. They take the responsibility for their team, their company, for the results. Take responsibility. Take action. Fire them now. Do what you should have done six months ago.
Originally appeared in B2B magazine
Photo: Getty Images