It is one of the most important decisions you will ever make
As leaders, we have all been there. You have an employee that is making mistakes, or under performing, or sowing discontent among other employees. You have talked to them. Bargained with them. Maybe even threatened them. But the behavior continues. How can you just get this person to change? Short answer: you can’t. So stop trying.
You can’t make anyone change. If they want to change, you can help facilitate that change. Your job as a leader is to determine who wants to change and who doesn’t.
Your job as a leader is to effectively communicate what part of the bigger picture the employee is responsible for. If they are not meeting that responsibility, then you need to effectively communicate that to them. You owe them that. That does not mean waiting until something is a crisis. What it does mean is regularly talking to employees and outlining the goals and culture of the company. It means regularly talking with them on what part of that big picture they are responsible for, and what resources and constraints they have to get the work done. You must give them the authority and flexibility to make some decisions that directly influence their ability to succeed at those things.
Many people, the right people, will thrive in this environment. When you give them feedback that the responsibilities for the position are not being met, they will do what needs to be done to make sure things get done. If they don’t know what to do, they may need help in figuring out the best way to make it happen.
I have a very simple rule: I put as much effort into helping someone as they put in. If you have someone that yearns to be the best that they can be and shows that they take the responsibility they have been given seriously, then you should do whatever you can to help them be successful. Coaching, tools, staff (all within reason). This is the magical place. You have to recognize that you have someone that – while struggling because of experience, skills, learning, or whatever – will put forth an enormous amount of effort to be successful. You don’t throw that away cavalierly.
When things go sideways
But what about those people that don’t thrive in this environment? How do you get them on the same page? What about that person that has a great attitude, but is simply incapable of doing the job because of aptitude or something else? Isn’t there some sort of framework or tool you can use to finally get them on the same page? No. You move them out of the company.
It doesn’t really matter if you like them or not. It doesn’t matter if they are a good person. Sure, it makes it easier to fire someone if you hate them, but the fact is, you probably won’t hate most of the people that you need to fire. That sucks.
One way to effectively move through this is to focus on what the business needs, like it is a machine. Because it is. The business needs certain people to do certain things on a certain timeline for the business to be viable. Your job as the leader of the business is to find people that can and want to fill those roles effectively.
I am not saying to be without feeling. Always approach personnel problems with compassion. Firing someone is traumatic. It turns people’s lives upside down. But make sure your compassion is appropriately placed. If you determine that a particular person can’t or doesn’t want to fill the role that a particular position needs, then you have a responsibility to make a change. Other people’s lives depend on it. Everyone working at the company and all of its customers are impacted by your ability to put the right person in the right job. If someone is under performing, other people have to pick up the slack. That is stressful to them, sometimes greatly so. Your customers are using you to solve a problem for them. Their lives are impacted. Sure, the pain that all of these people feel is less individually than the pain the person is going to feel when you let them go, but in aggregate it is way more pain overall.
Your one great superpower is who you get to do the work. Use it effectively.