February 2015

Termination: Oh Yeah?! What Are You Going To Do About It!

By Shelley Hall

Shelley HallActuaries, whether working alone or in a company's division, continually pose questions such as: “I can’t get Felicia to file her reports on time. I’ve talked to her about it over and over. We’ve given her time management training and coaching, and she still doesn't get things done. How do I get her to do what I ask?”

The answer is either “Fire ‘em up!” or “Fire them out!” Regardless of which choice you make, you must hold the person accountable for her actions or, in Felicia’s case, her non-action. Accountability is one of the most difficult skills to master–-but master it you must.

It’s time for some soul searching. Why might you find it hard to hold people’s feet to the fire? Is it fear? Fear of what? Which one of these fears is preventing you from building a culture of accountability:

                         Fear of not being liked? Everyone wants to be liked. Some see taking a stand or drawing a line in the sand as demanding or even dictatorial. But I ask, “Who is going to demand excellence if not the boss?!” There’s a difference between “liking” someone and “respecting” someone. As a leader you need respect—skip the Facebook like!

                         Fear of conflict? Because getting wounded is a possibility in conflict, some take the path of least resistance. They might tell Felicia over and over to do what needs to be done and hope that one day she will change her spots. Fight or flight! As the leader of your division, you can control and reduce the level of conflict by being decisive. Remember, non-performing employees negatively impact those around them! Failure to face the conflict creates morale problems and reduces productivity.

                         Fear of the consequences? Establishing and enforcing consequences for non-performance is difficult. Perhaps the real fear is what might happen if you do: will the employee resign? Will you have to recruit, hire, and train again?

All the policies, procedures and processes in the world won’t get recalcitrant, under-performing employees to do as you expect—and by the way, neither will just training! You need a plan for accountability. So, here are the steps you should take to ensure accountability, yours and theirs:

                          Begin with consequences. If your employees don’t know or don’t believe there will be serious consequences for their actions, the rest of these steps are meaningless. Communicate clearly the consequences: “Felicia, we believe that everyone must pull her own weight in this division. Failing to perform will jeopardize your employment.”

                          Set clear, measurable expectations. Don’t be wishy-washy and generalize: “We need you to be proactive. We need you to respect your coworkers.” Instead, state the specifics. “Felicia, you show respect for coworkers by supporting them, not demeaning them with negative language. We require that you follow company policies and procedures such as our 15-minute break time policy.”

                          Secure employees’ buy-in. Make sure Felicia knows what is expected of her, agrees verbally to act responsibly, and understands the consequences of not doing so. Only time will tell if Felicia is committed to perform, but at least you’ve laid the foundation.

                          Measure performance. Consistent, formal performance evaluations are important to foster the desired behavior and critical for dealing with subpar performance.

                         Coach the person and give her actionable feedback. Give your employee opportunities to own her work, to improve, or to “get” it. But this should not take years! If employees who’ve been with you for longer than 12 months are still not performing beyond “barely adequate,” despite coaching, mentoring, performance conversations, and loads of positive feedback and reinforcement, then fire ‘em out! Firing them up clearly isn’t working.

                         Hold yourself accountable. Strong leadership requires guts—even when you’re the solo practitioner. Leadership ain’t for sissies. Being a good leader means doing the dirty work. It means you may not always be liked. It means overcoming your fears and taking action; it may mean firing someone. Experience shows that often there’s a good person out there looking for work. Don’t let that fear-inducing voice in your head tell you that you’ll never find anyone good to replace Felicia because she won’t know the uniqueness of your industry, your quirky payroll system, etc. How good is Felicia anyway if she doesn't do what you ask? Any eager, smart, hard-working, success-oriented individual will trump Felicia any day.

So let go of the fear. Stop losing money by allowing your non-performing employees to bully you into inaction. Take back your business!

About the Author

In addition to being the author of the Brick Wall Breakthrough: Actions for Exceptional Sales and Service  and a speaker, Shelley Hall is principal/managing director of Catalytic Management, LLC. Hall is considered an expert in the field of "customer-focused management." She writes frequently for major business journals such as Business Performance Management MagazineCEO RefresherThe Handbook of Business StrategyWomen's BusinessManageSmarter, Sales and Service Excellence and Chief Learning OfficerVisit Shelley’s book website or follow Shelley on Twitter @SHELLEYBOSTON