If You Love Someone, Sometimes You Have to Let Them Go
We love it when people shake up tradition. Dr. Dewett is one such person. He defies stereotypes of docs, consultants, leadership authors. Enjoy his first guest post. Pretty sure it will resonate with you.
It is not uncommon for a leader to spot an employee in need of a performance boost. It is common, however, to see leaders fail to handle performance problems effectively. There are three main unproductive approaches I see most often.
- First, is the extreme (and thankfully rare) hard and fast rank and yank policy, made legendary byJack Welch at GE years ago.
- Next, tied for the most common, is simple conflict avoidance. This approach only makes things worse.
- Finally, the other most common unproductive approach is over investing in an employee who is not likely to change.
I will refrain for now from addressing the harsh rank and yank (rarely effective) and conflict avoidance (written about by me and many others elsewhere).
Instead, I would like to discuss why we overinvest in employees who are unlikely to improve.
I believe this is the most interesting challenge because it is often driven by very good intentions, and yet it typically produces a negative outcome: an employee who is still underperforming after many hours and dollars have been spent. You send them to training, coach them, give them the 360, send them a book, etc. Yet nothing changes.
In response to this challenge, I am not advocating a quick yank like Neutron Jack did back in the day. You need to be compassionate and thoughtful about which resources might help the employee transform. However, practicality requires that you have a good rule. Here’s my favorite: if after three thoughtful interventions the issue remains unchanged… Well, three strikes and you’re out. It’s time to get serious about re-scoping or releasing the person.
Yet we often do not get serious when we should. Here’s why:
- As a matter of due process we wish to give others a second chance, just as we have received second chances in the past. That is laudable, though once we begin down this path, it becomes harder to change course following each additional extra chance. The act of giving chances becomes comfortable and easily gains momentum.
- We come to believe that one additional investment in the person will be the investment that will finally turn things around. We believe this, often in the face of data suggesting otherwise, because we feel bound to the past investments we’ve made with this individual and do not wish to see them go to waste.
- Morally, we feel it is correct to keep them. Allowing the person to persist at lower levels of performance is often driven by a desire to “do the right thing.” This moral imperative suggests that the decision maker is a good person. It does not, however, necessarily suggest a good decision. We feel it is the right thing to do because this avoids having to demote or fire the person, causing them significant personal harm.
Sometimes the truth hurts: leading others is a fulfilling but often difficult vocation. It requires relentless positivity and it requires you to give a helping hand.
However, in the final analysis, your job is to maximize the productivity of the organization you lead, not the individual productivity of each member of your team (two very different goals).
In the game of baseball, each batter is afforded three opportunities to get it right –three strikes. That is a reasonable approach. At work you must find your own reasonable approach. Allowing only one strike – such as a quick rank and yank – is too harsh. In contrast, allowing ten strikes is entirely too lenient from a cost and productivity perspective. Endeavor to find your own personal sweet spot – stay conscious of it, own it, and use it consistently. Your team and your organization will thank you once you realize that sometimes even if you love someone, you have to let them go.
Connect with Todd
Dr. Dewett is dedicated to one thing above all else: creating better leaders. He is a management professor, speaker, author, coach, radio host, entrepreneur, caffeine addict, and Harley Davidson nut. He has been quoted in the New York Times,BusinessWeek, Forbes, CNN, and hundreds of other outlets. Since beginning his career with Andersen Consulting and Ernst & Young, he has since consulted with, trained, spoken to, and instructed thousands of professionals all over the country. Visit his home on the web at www.drdewett.com and the on-demandvideo coaching service at www.fuel4leaders.com. Contact Todd at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo courtesy of Mr. Littlehand