As a fly fisherman, I once got into a precarious situation when I refused to back off a river. I was fishing with my husband, George, and put us both in danger by ignoring the generator schedule. On this particular tailwater, the middle of the river is a dangerous place when the second generator starts cranking. With a compressed sciatic nerve in my right leg, I was hobbling at best and should have stayed close to shore. But George was outfishing me!
My watch alarm sounded to let me know the second generator would be kicking in. I hit snooze. Again. And again. Suddenly I was surrounded by surging water, trying to balance on the tip of a jagged rock. If he’d been on his own, George could have easily made it to shore, but he knew I needed help. Instead of getting upset because I’d been foolish, he remained calm, came up with a plan, and told me we were about to take a swim.
When an Employee Isn’t Performing
One of the most difficult situations a leader encounters is terminating an employee. You’ve outlined, coached, defined and clarified, but—change isn’t happening. You procrastinate by focusing on what you can’t change:
I didn’t even hire him. I was promoted, and he was already here.
But I gave the final approval to bring her on board, and she moved 2,000 miles with her family to take the job!
He’s been with the company for years, but the business model has changed, and he doesn’t want to change with it.
All the while, you continue to receive complaints from top performers. Costly errors and problems continue to happen. Your credibility as a leader begins to erode. The alarm keeps going off, and you keep hitting snooze.
A couple in a raft rescued me and George just as we were about to embark on our dicey exit. Unfortunately, leaders who are faced with terminating an employee don’t have such an out. But there is a three-step process you can follow to help you move forward:
Accept where you are. Regardless of whether you hired the person or not, the employee is at a place where he or she is no longer contributing to the organization. This is a painful place for the employee and you. Reflection is important, but don’t avoid the present by dwelling on the past.
Recognize your responsibility to the employee and the company. You’ve done your due diligence, and the results haven’t changed. Create a final plan and have your boss or human resources hold you accountable to follow through. It’s up to you take the next steps. You have to create a plan to get off the rocks.
Act sooner than later. Dragging out the process creates tension in the workplace. The employee suffers, the business suffers, and your reputation suffers. Some leaders believe that taking quick action with non-performers is less humane than watching them become isolated as they lose respect in the workplace. I have yet to understand that reasoning. The water will continue to rise, and the stakes will get higher for everyone.
There are days when leading people is like a perfect day on the river: we make good judgment calls, things go according to plan, and at the end of the day—it’s incredibly rewarding. There are other days when we’re faced with a worst-case scenario, whether by our own design or someone else’s. When that happens, it’s important to accept where we are, recognize our responsibility, and act.
Successful leaders have the courage to take action while others hesitate.