August 9, 2012

Managing Someone Out (The Right Way)

I was a little dramatic in my last post Good Leaders Fire People.  Managing someone out (the right way) is different from firing.

My definition of “firing” is a forceful and immediate removal from the company.  Firing should be reserved for someone who steals, lies or otherwise shows big integrity problems.  Firing decisions are easy because they are so clear.

Managing someone out the right way means you ask someone to resign and he or she does so willingly.  It’s a lot tougher than firing someone.

I’ll teach you how.

It all starts the first week of someone’s employment.  As a leader you must give clear expectations and constant feedback from day one.

I like to divide the expectations into “responsibilities” and “behaviors.”  A responsibility is usually an activity or result.  For example, I might make clear that a sales person must call 20 new prospects each day or deliver $X per month in revenue.  Think of all the responsibilities for each of your reports and write them down.  Be as specific as possible.

A “behavior” is conduct I expect generally from all people on my team.  Examples of behaviors might be focusing on solutions rather than problems, coming to meetings on time or always confirming understanding of a new task before starting.  Write down your behavioral expectations on paper.

Meet your team member and share your written expectations for responsibilities and behaviors with them.  Take the time to discuss thoroughly.  Give them opportunities to ask questions.  By the end of the meeting your team member will know exactly what good and bad performance look like.

Then give constant feedback.  When someone’s performance does not meet your written expectations you must tell them immediately.  This will be hard at first but will get easier with experience.

If you follow these steps regularly each person on your team always will know if they are a performance hero or a performance zero.  If they’re a zero you can support and help them to improve.  Win-win on all sides.

The time to manage out is when someone has been a zero for an intolerably long time.  Like six months or a year.  They haven’t improved despite regular feedback and support from you.

That’s when you have the conversion.  It goes something like this: “Bob, you’re great with [describe a positive trait] but we’re just not getting the results we need.  It’s tough for the team — [describe the effect of Bob’s poor work on his colleagues].  I know you’ve worked hard to improve but things aren’t getting better.  I just don’t think this position is the right fit for you.”

Then stop talking and wait for Bob to react.

If Bob is surprised that you think he’s a performance zero then you’ve failed as a leader.  Prepare for a very unpleasant conversation.

If you’ve given Bob regular feedback, my experience nine times out of ten is that Bob will accept that he’s not right for the position and needs to move on.  He’ll accept it because human beings have a deep-rooted need for pride and self-respect.  No one wants to continue in a position where both they and their colleagues know they suck.

Once Bob accepts the need to move on, support him.  Give him at least a few months to figure out his next move.  Help him polish his CV.  Brainstorm new job opportunities with him inside and outside the company.  Mentor him.  Then when he finds a new position let him save face and announce it to everyone.  No one needs to know that you asked him to leave although they probably will guess.

I’ve managed poor performers out who found great new jobs that fit their strength areas much better and where they were far happier.  Several even thanked me for giving them the push they needed.

Managing people out is never easy or fun.  But it’s necessary for greatness.  Weak leaders who allow poorly performing team member to stay for years hurt not only the team, they also hurt the team member.

Is there someone you should manage out?  Take action the right way, today!

  • Nhi

    Waiting your next lesson :)anh Chris


  • Bon


    Here is what I see
    from team leader. Team leader must know how to lead and get support resources
    from manager when he/she needed.

    As a team leader, how
    did he get that position if he fails in most cases, “weak leader”? Where is the
    manager to support his roles with resources for him to lead his team? In this
    case it looks like a fail manager not a weak team leader.

    Firing is forceful
    and immediate removal from the company and FIRING is easy, I don’t think so

    Firing must takes
    precaution steps and prepared in order to fire on the spot. There are lots of things
    to consider such as bad seen at work place, he could be outrages can causes
    major trouble, surrounding employees are safe? He could come back and retaliate
    same day, next day or within week, or outside parking lot. He could come back
    in work place with weapons; guns or knife. Is security of work place beef up
    before and after fired? Prepare to de-actived badge or changed lock code to the
    building access. The arbitration for unemployment in this case the EMPLOYER has
    to pay PERCENTAGE of the amount that he will be collecting from unemployment
    check for months; law suit could be involved.

    Must FIRED within the
    correct codes and ethics of employer’s policy and procedure. At times when you
    want to FIRED someone, you must build the case before can fired.

    • You make a good point Bon.

      Actually firing someone must be done carefully. You have to have clear evidence of unethical behavior and you have to make sure you comply carefully with all laws and procedures. That can be tricky sometimes.

      However, the decision whether or not to fire someone if they are caught stealing or lying is an easy decision. You do it as fast as you can.

      Yes, there are risks to firing someone. But the risks of not firing them are much larger. If you catch someone lying or stealing and you don’t fire them, you are sending a clear message to everyone on your team that people can lie and steal without consequences. Your organization will begin to rot from the inside.

      • Bon


        I don’t really know much about hire and fire in Vietnam but I am very familiar in U.S. BTW, I am very interested and wanting to know how they handle it in Vietnam.

        Can you fill me in how it works in Vietnam ?


        • Labor laws in Vietnam heavily favor workers. Companies must show clear evidence that the worker committed wrongdoing.

          • Bon

            Wow, OK thanks Chris.

            I plan to live in Vietnam sometime soon.

      • Alex anon

        If people were fired for lying, there would be no CEOS. Studies have shown that CEOS are more capable at lying, whether or not they are attempting to do so. Lying is usually not the reason for termination.

  • Nguyễn Đại Dương

    Thank for your post, Chris. I find that is difficult to manage staff, especially when we want to improve the company when the staff had poor performances. Wasting time & money to help someone work better or fire him is my problem in Managing Some Out.

    • Yes, it *is* difficult to manage people Duong. If it were easy anyone could do it.

      There are many things that separate good leaders from poor ones. One is the ability to make unpleasant decisions and manage out non-performers.

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  • johndurbinn

    This article was written by a goddamned psychopath. It’s no wonder why you have to be half-batshit crazy and full of yourself in order to make it up the mountain of bullshit, to middle-management and beyond. Feel bad for you fucks.

  • Neo Nguyen

    Hi anh Chris: love this post. it actually demystify “firing”. it ‘s very much unlike what people often on US movies or The apprentice. It is a part of performance management and starts right from the beginning of employment.

  • Nebuchanezzar

    No,No,No Chris, your “ideas” appear to amount to what is no less than systematic employee bullying which is in the raw, DISGUSTING and UNETHICAL. –

    Do not let this guy’s smooth words deceive you what he appears to suggest here – it makes you want to throw up, the insidious and underhand bullyboy tactics being honed here .

    ◦PIPs often used in this process are a truly replusive and destructive mechanism,
    The law needs changing to prevent the Employer’s widespead abuse and clear manipulation of this process towards employees.

    Companies have a fiduciary duty, a legal and ethical obligation to their employees to act transparently and act entirely faithfully and fairly towards each other because of the trust and confidence in which they stand in relation to one another.

    for example: A quote from a HR website recently visited..
    “If the PIP does not result in acceptable levels of improvement, you have a candidate for dismissal”

    It is of key importance, currently who currently defines and decides what is “acceptable” performance , in the PIP processes, controversially this decision is held by an agent or senior employee of the company whose interests and motives are not independant.

    This is completely unacceptable the way the law stand, and allows HR to systematically use dirty and unethical behaviour.

    Again, the PIP is a vile, unjust , and spiteful approach to looking after your workforce, who will realise what happens to others can happen to them eventually . –

    The law must change on this.

    • I’m not sure if this is a troll comment or not. I’ll answer anyway.

      “Companies have a fiduciary duty, a legal and ethical obligation to their
      employees to act transparently and act entirely faithfully and fairly
      towards each other because of the trust and confidence in which they
      stand in relation to one another.”

      I couldn’t agree more.

      Being clear about expectations, giving regular feedback and trying to help team members who do not perform is the most ethical and correct thing a manager can do. It’s also good for business.

      I think you are suggesting that it’s better for a manager to formally
      fire an employee rather than managing an employee out.

      I couldn’t disagree more.

      If a team member consistently does not perform despite repeated help then the team member is in the wrong job. As a manager you are not helping that person or your team by allowing them to continue in that job. The most humane and ethical thing is a manager can do is to allow that person to resign while you give him a few months and help him find a new job. Resigning allows him to save face. It’s much better for everyone than firing the employee forcefully.