While participating in a management meeting, I witnessed an intense discussion about whether Alex, a long-time employee, should be terminated. Most admitted concern about Alex’s performance but several were hesitant fire Alex.
Managers who argued for keeping Alex made statements like: “Alex has been with us for a long time.” “Technology has changed his job a lot.” “He’s not a bad person.”
Managers struggle with termination decisions because they realize employees need income for food, clothing, and shelter; and often, to support family members. Peers, even though they realize that their workload is overburdened by a slacker, may still worry about the forever absence of a work associate.
Below are four signals to clarify the appropriate time for pressing the termination button.
The low-performing employee . . .
- . . . is unresponsive to coaching and training.
- . . . shows little or no enthusiasm for the job.
- . . . complains excessively about managers’ decisions.
- . . . has shown little, or no, improvement for six months.
If any one of the four statements apply, a caring termination is likely better for both the company and the employee.
Eric’s manager said to me, “Eric will not take initiative. He knows his job but does only what I tell him to do.”
“What have you tried?” I asked.
“I’ve told him to do what he thinks needs to be done and don’t wait around for me to give him an assignment. He wasn’t responsive, so I started giving him detailed checklists.”
“How did that work?”
“Not so well. Eric made a half-hearted effort to do a few things but mostly he just conjured up excuses.”
Effective leaders are attentive to each employees’ uniqueness. Some like detailed instructions, some like broad guidance. Some like public praise but public attention embarrasses others. Pressure motivates some people to rise to the occasion, others buckle.
If your current way of dealing with an employee is not producing the desired results, then change your methods.
Since micromanaging did not work with Eric, maybe the leader could try giving him specific outcomes with deadlines and a lot of freedom in performing his tasks.
Of course, if a leader tries several ways to motivate an employee and none seem to work, it is likely that the employee just does not have the talent or commitment to perform.
“What do you spend most time on during performance appraisals?” I asked several members of a work team.
One responded. “My boss says he wants to help me get better by pointing out things that I need to improve on.”
Other comments continued along the same vein. But here is the problem. Contrary to popular opinion, focusing employees on their shortcomings actually impairs growth and development.
Negative feedback, according to researchers Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall, apparently triggers the “fight or flight” system in our brains causing us to focus only on survival. That explains why, in response to negative feedback, many employees get defensive and argumentative (fight). Others sulk and say little or nothing (flight.)
Curing weaknesses may get employees to adequate performances but will not likely result in exceptional performances. Managers who say, “I need to get you out of your comfort zone,” are likely to divert your brain power to “How do I survive?” and not to “How can I get better?”
By contrast, feedback that recognizes what employees do well encourages growth by creating mental and emotional openness. This stimulates connections in the brain that result in the ability to do better what you already do well.
“Some of my team members work in the office and some are in the field,” explained Tillford. “People in the field seem to have difficulty understanding my expectations. I often have to send documents back for corrections and updates.”
Tillford further explained that the office and field members were well-trained and, thanks to robust electronic media, he used the same format for communicating to both groups.
I asked, “Do field staff every come to the office? Do you visit them in the field?”
“Field people come in every quarter for our all-hands meetings but I don’t get much one-on-one time with them.”
I said to Tillford that perhaps he should make time for more face-to-face contact, either by periodically visiting field offices or by asking field staff to travel to his office. Because of the cost and inconvenience, Tillford had resisted doing this in the past. However, because he was so frustrated with current performances, he agreed to try it.
Six months later, Tillford reported, “I can’t believe how much our communication has improved. After just a few field visits, our understanding improved dramatically and field team members are performing just as well, maybe even better, than their office counterparts.”