Letting Someone Go: Ask Madeleine

Close up of business people shaking handsDear Madeleine,

Is it wrong to let someone go if they just aren’t performing?  I have an employee that I originally hired because he seemed to have real promise.

I like him a lot as a person, but he never quite “gets it right.” I have given him plenty of chances to improve, but his performance is not where it needs to be. I’m ready to move in a new direction. —Time for a Change


Dear Time for a Change,

If you feel confident that you really have provided this person with explicit instructions and plenty of chances to get it right, it doesn’t make sense to retain an employee who is probably in the wrong job.

If you are at all unsure, you can check yourself in a couple of areas.  You don’t want to fire someone because of a lack of direction or support on your part.  Many employees fail because their managers do not give the proper mix of clear direction and support on each task and goal—for example, high direction when someone is new to a task, coaching when someone is struggling, support when they are making progress, and autonomy when they have proven themselves self-reliant (for more on this check out this short video about Situational Leadership II)

In The New One Minute Manager Ken Blanchard explicitly instructs managers to be sure each employee has clear goals that are written down,  consistent praising for a job well done, and redirection when the task is not done to standard.

Assuming that you have done your part and that you have had direct conversations with this employee about performance (check out my earlier column on feedback if you have questions), it is fair to let them go.

If you have a human resources professional who can help you to build and hold your employee accountable to a performance plan, that’s a good place to start.  If, ultimately, you assess that this person just doesn’t care enough, will never quite have what it takes to do the job, or is simply not the right fit, it will become clear.  Once it does, take action.

In my experience even managers who agonize over letting people go find that once they bite the bullet, they never regret it.  Many employees who are doing a terrible job know it and are just waiting for you to put a stop to the misery.  Once you do decide to let the person go, be brief, direct, and kind, but firm.  Good luck.

About the author

Madeleine Blanchard

Madeleine Homan-Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

3 thoughts on “Letting Someone Go: Ask Madeleine

  1. Your answer really highlights the fact that it takes time and effort to be a strong manager. So often we don’t allocate ourselves the time needed to manage the folks on our team. They deserve a chance to be supported and do well.

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