Managers, Don’t Throw Your People Under the Bus

by Denny Strigl

In Chapter 7 of Managers, Can You Hear Me Now? I said good managers know their people: they understand their strengths and weaknesses and know the parameters of the jobs their employees were hired to do.  The most successful managers I’ve met have placed people in jobs that match their current skill set and then give them a fair chance to succeed.  These same managers were always ready and able to assist their employees whenever the need arose.  They were able to do the jobs of the people they lead, training them and even filling in for them if it became necessary.

But what happens when a manager encounters an employee who has been given a fair chance to succeed and is still unable to do so?  Unfortunately, all too often, when employees are not performing in their jobs, managers immediately move to terminate them rather than present a different opportunity or train them for something more suited to their skill set.

Here are my thoughts for managers who think it may be time to terminate an employee:

  1. Carefully assess the situation to determine why the individual is not performing.  If the person is trying hard and demonstrates a desire to succeed, do all you can to make sure he or she has been given a fair chance to succeed.  Train and retrain the individual.  Demonstrate exactly what it takes to be successful.  Set achievable goals, measure performance and give plenty of feedback.  (Several techniques such as coaching, improvement plans, performance agreements and appraisals are discussed in Chapter 6 of my book.)
  2. When you have done all you can for an employee who tries hard and really wants to succeed, but is still unable to perform satisfactorily, before terminating the individual’s employment, explore other job opportunities within your company which may better suit the individual’s skill set.  Because someone is unable to perform satisfactorily in one job does not mean they are unable to perform in another.  I have found people who were unable to do one job, but were able to excel in another.  They weren’t “bad” employees; they were simply placed in the wrong jobs.  In my book I refer to this as the “round-peg-in-a-square-hole-syndrome.”

I would like to clarify a couple things.  First, managers should never move a problem employee to a new job, working for new manager, simply to “get rid” of a problem.   It must be understood by both the old and new managers that the employee’s skills are truly a better match in the new job position.  Which leads me to my second clarification. From time to time, unfortunately, there are poor performing employees who are unable to improve, don’t want to improve or demonstrate other chronic performance issues.  In such instances it is the manager’s job to know when to “let them off the bus.”  One of the most difficult things for a manager to do is to fire someone, but there are times when it is exactly what needs to be done for the good of the entire organization.

In conclusion, I have found firing decisions are often made prematurely.  My advice is to take the time necessary and provide the coaching required to help an individual to improve.  It is important not to give up on anyone too soon – not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because you’ve already made a big investment in the person.

Managers, you also need to recognize when you have done all you can do.  If you reach that point and the employee is still failing, the best action for the individual and for the entire organization is to separate right away.

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