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Peacefully managing out low-performing employees

Managing Expectations
Meetings
Internal Communication
Career Path
Performance

16 April, 2018

David Murray
David Murray

Cofounder at Confirm

David has worked with many employees who did not perform their duties at the level needed by the organization, finding ways to manage these employees out in ways that minimize damage to the organization that sometimes can occur.

Problem

Firing people is one of the most difficult things a manager can do. In fact, it can become a legal issue if not done well.

Actions taken

When we identify low-performing employees, the first thing we do is get feedback from those that work with this person to verify if the concerns are valid. Once confirmed, the most important thing to do is for the manager to have a candid, honest 1-on-1 with the individual. By having regular 1-on-1s, these challenging conversations should never be a surprise. In this conversation, it's important to share the intent of creating a "Success Plan" (some call this a "Performance Improvement Plan" but that focuses on managing the person out as opposed to a better goal which is for the person to work out successfully). This plan should consistent of clear "S.M.A.R.T. goals" that are verbally discussed and then shared in written form. This protects the organization legally should the employee need to be terminated, but it's also a great way for everyone to be on the same page in hopes of the employee being successful. Aside from this, when things aren't working out, I've often found it to be the case that the affected employee isn't happy themselves. In these situations, a win-win scenario can be to have candid conversations about what makes the employee most happy and to identify other areas of opportunity within other departments or at another organization. The more that you can have an open, honest conversation, the more likely that employees will realize for themselves that this isn't the right place (or role) for them.

Lessons learned

Success Plans should never be a surprise -- have candid, transparent conversations at 1-on-1s on a weekly basis in which performance is discussed honestly, and have quarterly performance reviews, formal or informal, to carve out and record more detailed information on performance. Finally, if employees aren't happy, help them identify what would make them happy, even if it's not in their current role.

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