October 7, 2015

When to cut ties with a so-so employee

By Jim Annis


Tap, tap, tap. Tap, tap, tap. He is tapping his pencil on the desk again and it is driving you nuts. This may be the last straw for this employee. You've been looking for a reason ... is this "it"? The excuse to get off the fence? We see it all the time. An employee that is, well ... meh. Uninspiring. You know the one. You have decided that you will give them 24 chances; then, when they reach 25 - like the pencil tapping above - they're outta here. For fence sitters who refuse to make a decision, this article is not for you. Here are some ways to jump off the fence, unbroken and without egg on your face:

An objective approach

Step back and reflect on yourself first. Did you consider all variables? Did you communicate all performance expectations? Are you demonstrating a Type A CEO controlling personality? There was a time where I was like that, which was not fair to any employee of mine. I would make a snap decision to "wipe the table clean," fire him and start over. Avoid that trap by documenting their behavior versus your attitude. Can you prove and document policy violations? Causing damage to others? Safety violations? Keep asking the pertinent questions until you can confirm your own "gut" decision. If you are too close to it, or if it feels too personal, then call in a third-party professional like an HR consultant or professional employer organization. They'll tell you that you're probably dealing with one of the following types of employees:

  • Slightly poor performer: If they are a halfway-decent person and someone you want on your team, then make the investment and help them using training and coaching. Create an HR checklist. Ensure that they have a clear job description, organizational structure, clearly defined strategy, values and culture.
  • Mildly abrasive personality: They're short and curt, but it does not mean they need to go. Their work volume might be average, but the quality is outstanding and their customers love them. The bigger picture outweighs their flaws.
  • Long-term employee in a downward spiral: You have standards to uphold. Even in a marketplace where competition for employees is high, a slacker here can just as easily be a slacker for your competitor. Make room for someone who fits the culture better.
  • Re-returning employee: We wish we could tell you these usually work out. We can't. The reason they left is still lurking there somewhere. In the headhunting business, if we are dealing with a returning candidate with a counter offer, it is usually about money and not another "real" issue, so best to let them go to the highest bidder (not you).

Is the company going to have the culture of A players or C players? You are the boss. You decide. Any of the above scenarios do not apply to big-ticket items like harassment, or if they are clearly underperforming. When you really sit down and figure out who the valuable people are and are not, you gain perspective on who is helping achieve your vision, and who isn't.

Jim Annis is president/CEO of The Applied Companies, which provide HR solutions for today’s workplace. Celeste Johnson, Applied's COO, contributed to this article.


Read article in the Reno Gazette-Journal here.

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