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!