When Do You Decide To Fire An Underperforming Employee?

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I have a perfect record when it comes to saving underperforming employees. That’s right, I am 100% successful in not turning an employees performance around. Except for this one time…

The company I was working for had just acquired another company, and I was given the responsibility of running this new division. I was fortunate that the team I was inheriting was pretty good.

However, there was one direct report that didn’t look like he was going to make it. Jack seemed slow and lethargic. Plus he appeared to have a lot of bad habits that were going to be tough to change.

I didn’t have high hopes Jack would make it.

I put Jack in charge of one of the three products lines the division had. And I paired Jack with John, a very young and talented engineer, to help with the product definition and strategy.

One of the first things Jack needed to do was present the business plan and strategy for the product line to our CEO. I was really concerned how Jack would do because our CEO did not suffer fools lightly.

Jack and John did all the necessary things they needed to do in preparation for the meeting with the CEO. They visited customers, researched the competition, and developed a comprehensive strategy and product plan.

I had Jack and John do a couple dry runs before we presented to the CEO. I had Charlie, one of the more brilliant engineers/business minds in the company, try and find holes in their strategy.

Charlie did a great job of identifying the weaknesses in their plan. Jack and John made the changes, and they were now ready to present to the CEO.


But I was still very worried. Would Jack wilt under the pressure?


I’d seen our CEO tear people, including me from time to time, to shreds. So Jack’s success was not guaranteed.

Thankfully, the meeting went off without a hitch. Jack did great, and the CEO approved his plan.

More importantly, over the next few years, Jack grew his business to be the dominant player in his space. Jack ended up running the whole division several years later after I left the company.

Jack is the reason why I always will try and save an underperforming employee.

You know the odds are long that someone’s performance will improve, but, despite the long odds, you have to try. You never know, you might have someone like Jack on your team. But there are other really important reasons to try and save underperforming employees:


A. You’re sending the right message to your team.


An environment where there is no room for failure is a fearful environment. Your team cannot do its best work in an environment of fear. And…


B. You’re owe it to the employee to try and save the employee.


You’re messing with people’s lives when you fire them. And the likelihood is you will have to fire the underperforming employee, but you need to give the person a chance.

Then, at least if you have to fire the underperforming employee, you can do it in good conscience. Finally…


C. Your team will appreciate that gave the underperforming employee a chance.


Word gets around. And you don’t want the reputation of having a quick trigger regarding firing people.

Instead, you will gain the support and trust of your team if you are viewed as fair.

For more, read: How Do You Know It's Time To Fire Someone?


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