Today's Challenge: How Long is Long Enough?

“How long do you work with someone before you make a tough decision?” This was the question two different people asked me this week after a speaking engagement. Both had inherited a person who was unable or unwilling to do their job. 
Does this situation sound familiar? If you’ve been leading for long, you have experienced this conundrum. Clearly, you want to do the right thing. The challenge is two-fold: discerning the right thing and then mustering the courage to do it.
I have no silver bullet to offer you. However, here a few factors to consider:
Look at the person’s history – What is this person’s track record? Is it one of accomplishment or mediocrity? If the person has demonstrated competence in the past, perhaps the current concerns are circumstantial or fleeting.
Go the extra mile – Truett Cathy once told me, “No one builds a career terminating people. You build a career by helping people be successful.” These words have always driven me to go above and beyond when dealing with serious performance issues. One of my questions in these difficult situations is, “What else can I do?”
[tweet_box design=”default”]No one builds a career terminating people. You build a career by helping people be successful.- Truett Cathy[/tweet_box]
Explore other roles – This is tricky. If you are not careful, a poor performer can move repeatedly thoughout his or her career without growing or changing. This “moving the problem” is not what I am advocating. Sometimes, a person just ends up in the wrong job. He or she may be extremely gifted in some other area. If you can discover that sweet spot, I am all in favor of moving someone to help them thrive.
Consider the person’s potential – This may seem controversial to some. Yes, I acknowledge the worth of every human being. At the same time, I know our time as leaders is our most precious asset. We must steward our time wisely. To over-invest in someone with limited potential doesn’t make sense. What do you believe this person’s long term impact can be if you successfully navigate the current difficulty?
Don’t forget the impact on the team – Always remember poor individual performance is cancer in a team. If it is allowed to persist it hurts the performer, the team and the leader. The team has to carry the burden of under contributing members; while the leader must focus valuable time on the individual.
Seek council – Hiring decisions are too important to be made by any single individual and so are termination decisions. Who are your trusted advisors for situations involving serious performance issues? Do you have counselors inside and outside your organization? In the world we live in, it is never a bad idea to seek legal and human resource professionals to help process your decision.
Be courageous – I know this is easier to say than it is to do. However, leaders must be courageous if our organizations are going to reach their full potential. In the case of a poor performing team member, we have two equally important factors at play – the life of the person we are working with; and our own credibility as a leader. Jim Collins challenged our leaders to respond with courage, “If you don’t you will steal a person’s life.”
So, how long is long enough? Hard to say. My best advice for you is something I heard from Jimmy Collins as he addressed our leaders many years ago. He said, “When dealing with performance issues, err on the side of grace.” Just not too much grace…
If you are having trouble making a tough call, I recommend Henry Cloud’s book, Necessary Endings.
 

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Srinivas Belvadi

5 years ago

As a HR professional, I have been part of many such endings. I find that there is always a need to have a balanced approach – neither too much empathy nor too much aggression in dealing with poor performance. Your tips are very apt for handling such situations.
I have also seen cases where an employee could well be person with great potential which often is seen as a threat as the organization finds it difficult to cope up with the drive and energy of the employee. Such employees become misfits. What would your advice be for such employees, who somehow feel it is not right to quit for two reasons – (a) jumping ship too often brands them as fickle minded; and (b) their sense of loyalty to the organization prevents them from leaving?

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