Thankfully it doesn’t happen too often. But every now and again, if you’re doing your job, you will conclude that it’s no longer worth the time and energy trying to help an employee improve. Assuming you’ve done everything in your power to communicate the problem and the consequences of not improving (and it’s still not working), then it’s time to pull the trigger. You are a manager; not a psychiatrist! But, before you organise the execution, make sure that you test your thinking.
Firing Justified? There are 4 indicators that show the process hasn’t worked/is unlikely to work.
- There’s been no change at all.
- There’s been minimal change.
- Performance improved temporarily, but it was short-lived.
- Performance is worse than before.
No Change At All: An employee may go through the entire performance improvement process without any change in behaviour. Some managers internalise this, turning the blame inwards. They see an employees’ failure as a reflection of their own (lack of) managerial skills. They play an endless ‘what if’ game (“What if I moved him to a new role?”; “If the 2013 goals had been crystal clear, would we be looking at a different outcome?”) and so on. However, the central point is that ‘employees own their performance’. Your need to make the goalposts crystal clear and support in every way you can. After that, it’s up to the employee to score the goals (and there’s no spectators allowed on the pitch).
A Little But Not Enough: A little change is more likely than no change at all. In fact, a small amount of change in an employee can indicate movement in the right direction. For example, you wouldn’t expect a miserable receptionist to become warm and effusive overnight or a sloppy and disorganised service technician to become the Patron Saint of Neatness. As time passes, however, you should expect to see real improvement. If the initial small changes in performance don’t eventually morph into larger, significant changes, you may never get the kind of performance you need. Warm the bullet!
Temporary Improvement, But Short-Lived: Sometimes an employee will make dramatic changes immediately after a performance interview. Instead of arriving 10 minutes late every day, she turns up 20 minutes early. Reports that were overdue for months appear neatly bound on your desk. Or the employee is no longer the Grinch and is suddenly courteous and helpful. Dramatic changes like these can look great, but sometimes don’t last very long. People who make abrupt and dramatic changes in behaviour are often changing for you rather than for themselves and return to their former habits. The managerial ‘trick’ here is to recognise and reinforce the efforts being made. You want to shift the person ‘up a gear’ and onto the next rung of the performance ladder – if that’s possible. Sometimes, it’s not. Load up the chamber!
Things Actually Get Worse: Every now and then, an employee’s performance will actually get worse following a performance review. Of course, you may have to take some of the responsibility for this. It’s possible you did or said something during the interview that confused or upset the employee. Maybe you committed yourself to something and failed to live up to your end of the bargain. Whatever the reason, the fact that the individual’s performance gets worse, not better, is something you can’t ignore. Swim back into the performance improvement process and see if this can be corrected; it’s worth one final rescue attempt.
It’s Not Me; it’s You! If you’ve exhausted your toolkit and performance is still dragging along the bottom then it’s time to take on one of the most difficult parts of the executive role. Some people won’t be happy in Heaven. But, you can’t spend all of your managerial life trying to help them overcome ‘issues’. This is not marriage guidance counselling. It’s a divorce and they are leaving the house. It’s tough, but that’s what you are paid to do.
Here’s the rub. If you are 30+, in a managerial role and haven’t fired more than 3 people to date, you may not be doing a great job yourself. In fact, you may be accepting underperformance rather than tackling this. Hey, take a quick look. Maybe that barrel is pointing towards you. As they say in the Christmas Panto, look out, he’s behind you!
Have a good one
PS: It ‘almost’ goes without saying. If you have lived with underperformance for some time, another couple of weeks won’t kill you. Don’t fire anyone coming up to Christmas (unless it’s for Gross Misconduct).
PPS Lighter Note: Praying Parrots (you’d need a laugh after that topic). Thanks to Larry McGivern for this one.
A lady goes to her priest and tells him: “Father, I have a problem. I have two female parrots, but they only know how to say one thing.”
“What do they say?” the priest inquired.
“They say, “Hi, we’re hookers! Do you want to have some fun?”
“That’s obscene!” the priest exclaimed. Then he thought for a moment.
“You know,” he said, “I may have a solution to your problem. I have two male talking parrots, which I have taught to pray and read the Bible. Bring your two parrots over to my House, and we’ll put them in the cage with Francis and Peter. My parrots can teach your parrots to praise and worship. Your parrots are sure to stop saying that phrase in no time.”
“Thank you,” the woman responded, “I was at my wits end about this.”
The next day, she brought the female parrots to the priest’s house. As he ushered her in, she saw that his two male parrots were inside their cage holding rosary beads and praying. Impressed, she walked over and placed her parrots in with them. After a few minutes, the female parrots cried out in unison: “Hi, we’re hookers! Do you want to have some fun?” There was stunned silence. Shocked, one male parrot looked over at the other male and exclaimed, “Put the beads away, Frank. Our prayers have been answered.”
Clever Marketing: Not wanting to take up too much of your time, I normally only attach short video clips. This one is a bit longer (10+ minutes) but worth checking out. Think about the messaging in terms of how you market yourself internally in your organisation. If you are too busy to look at this, save it for another time.
Check our website http://www.tandemconsulting.ie or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.