28 Feb When to pull the plug on underperforming staff
One of the hardest decisions to make as a leader is terminating an employee. For compassionate leaders, the decision is compounded by the fact that they see personal failure in this decision. What could they have done differently to help this employee succeed?
Here’s a checklist of steps to make sure you’ve done your due diligence with every employee. This will help everyone understand the process, and help you be confident in your final decision.
Give clear metrics for success
Empathy can get mixed up in the communications messages to employees. It is our job as leaders to clearly articulate the metrics against which the employee will be reviewed. In the not-for-profit sector, finding the RIGHT metric is key. Do you want to reward on total dollars raised? Or on number of visits with donors per month? If you’ve got a communications person who is underperforming, use the open rate of your newsletter or total traffic to your blog or campaign page as a metric. Be as specific as possible, and be clear about how this metric will influence their professional success. This must happen in advance of any termination.
Articulate what’s not working
The metrics are not being met. Now it’s time for a sit-down meeting where you articulate what’s not working, why, and how it affects the rest of the organization. A compassionate leader will explain the facts and avoid distortion through the lens of personal frustrations. Remember: your emotions are not a factor in this management decision. It’s also important to not assume things about the employee. Don’t fill in the blanks, but rather, let them fill in the backstory. Commit to listening, and to looking for a path forward together.
You’ve both committed to doing things differently, and you’re both vested in making this work. Options for creating change include:
- More frequent updates on progress
- Shorter ½ hour touch base meetings
- Clarity on how the employee wants to be motivated
- Removal from certain activities to focus on other tasks (with a clear understanding of metrics)
- Help with setting up workflows across departments
- Visual boards to clarify deadlines and demonstrate impact on the whole team when deadlines and guidelines are not met.
Coaching employees back on track
As a compassionate leader, you need to know that you’ve done everything possible to set up a struggling employee for success. Consider hiring a professional coach as an outside source of support for you, or the employee. A coach can be a lifeline for an employee who has the passion for the mission, and a long history with the organization, but not the skills to execute the job they now find themselves in. The other advantage of a coach, is that it gives an objective perspective from outside the (potentially) emotionally charged situation. In my experience as a coach to leaders, maintaining the status quo is not an option. Left unchecked, the situation will not rectify itself, and it can bring down the morale in the entire department.
“I’ll wait a little longer. It will get better”
Let me be clear: the situation will not get better on its own. In the not-for-profit sector, we hang onto employees who are not meeting the organization’s needs too long. We do this because of our fears:
- Fear of losing the amazing connection or history with the organization. Sounds like “I can’t possibly replace him/her. She’s been here for years and knows all our donors and board members.”
- Fear of reprimand from the other staff members. Sounds like “What will the others say if he/she is let go? Do I have time to cope with the cleanup?”
- Fear of the unknown. Sounds like “How will I find anyone to replace him/her, especially with our pay scale?”
Making your decision
Your team expects clarity from you. After a clearly articulated timeline (and your Human Resources people will walk you through the steps) make your final decision to terminate. By following the steps above, you’ll know that you have done your due diligence, and that you’re making the best decision for the organization.
Firing an employee is not a failure of your leadership, it’s a failure of the situation. Take some time to reflect after the dust has settled. What can you do differently next time – hiring processes, due diligence, probationary period, longer interview process with more participants – to ensure you have a good culture fit for your organization?
Lean into your compassionate leadership style. Find strength from your passion for your team, and remember that the failure isn’t yours alone.
Your turn – ready set go!
Do you identify as a compassionate leader? Where do you struggle when articulating goals and metrics to staff? Commit to one thing this week that will help you build a new dialogue with your employees.