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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Letting Go of a Poorly Performing Employee is the Right Thing to Do

It is in fact the most humane thing to do…

The probationary period is almost over. You know you did your best to coach the person, advised him that he’s not performing up to par. You feel so guilty because you know the person needs the job. When you let him go, you’ll be taking away his livelihood.

So, you go through all those stages of grief. You start with Denial. You say, he’s a good guy, very likeable. Everybody loves his humor even if he fouls up on his real work all the time. You feel Anger. It’s his fault. He put you into this difficult situation. Had he done his job well, you’d be more than happy to give him regular employment. You tell yourself, you were never short of advice, coaching sometimes even threats.


Now, Imagine me sounding the warning signal loudly. Here comes the most dangerous part: Bargaining. You start wondering “he’s a good guy, what if I give him a chance. Maybe if I coach him more, he’ll do better”. You start feeling good for being a good Samaritan, for the idea of your willingness to save his job when technically, he doesn’t deserve it. You give him his permanent appointment but not without making it clear to him about how you feel about his performance. You told him that you are giving him a chance to redeem himself, and so he should. He understands and promises to improve. You wait, one month, two months, three months. He still couldn’t figure out his job. He’s mediocre on his best days and he is miserable the rest of the time. You now go through a more difficult cycle of grief, which you should have avoided had you completed the first cycle meaning experiencing Depression, or feeling crappy for having to fire someone, and then experiencing Acceptance as you allow him to move on and allow yourself to move on as well.

I’ll probably never get used to firing people. I’d avoid it as much as I can. In fact the above situation happened to me more than once. And to those people whom I know fell into the same trap, regret happens more often than vindication and still commit a lot of those mistakes. If you feel that you are in a similar situation and you are at the bargaining stage. Here are a few tips from someone who has been there.

When you let go of people because they fail to manifest good performance despite so much work, you are doing them a favor. It is probably not the right kind of job for that person, or not the right kind of company or environment. And keeping them, is like getting them stuck in a rut. Yes, they will keep the job but a better job which maybe just around the corner will just become a lost opportunity for them to work in a job or company that they will really enjoy and succeed at. When self-blaming creeps in. When you start hearing yourself saying, You didn’t do a good job of helping the person succeed, it is possibly true. You should have thought of that earlier and do a better job. Now, its too late and the stake is high for finding out whether you did enough or not. Besides it is only half of the equation. The person is just as responsible, no, more responsible for his own performance than you. Another Idea. If the person is cut out for the job, he would have performed well, with the least support coming from you.

So, let me reiterate my point. Letting go of an employee with a lackluster performance is the most humane thing to do. It’s alright to feel bad about it, but you need to go full circle with the grief and eventually let go. Let him find the right job for himself. Let him experience the lessons of failure. It will make him a better person. You, you should learn to do better next timeas well. The experience will help you become more discerning of the kind of people you need, and know better how to help them achieve successful performance and when all else fail, let go again.

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