If you’ve ever managed any type of metric-driven team, then you are aware that there will be performance rockstars and there will be performance duds. The rockstars are easier to handle. They do their job and they do it well. The underperformers, however, tend to be trickier. How do you know when to invest company time, energy, and money in their improvement and when to cut your losses and let them go? Fortunately, there is an easy way to make this decision by asking yourself one simple question:
Is this a skill problem, or is it a will problem?
Skill problems are markedly straightforward. There is some aspect of the employees performance that can be corrected by addressing a lack of knowledge or know-how. If your underperformer has the potential to do their job given the right amount of time or education, then they are certainly worth keeping. It’s when they don’t want to do their job that a critical issue arises.
Will problems are difficult. They occur when an employee lacks the drive or ambition to perform in their role. They may have all of the right skills and qualities that a rockstar performer does but if they aren’t willing to put in the work, or don’t see the value in doing so, then they will never add value to your team. If you determine that an employee is underperforming because of will problem, then it’s time to let them go.
The Termination Conversation
It’s important to approach a termination conversation in a strategic manner. It’s not enough to sit the employee down and say “You’re fired.” It’s not practical to engage them in a lengthy conversation that establishes you as a friend. Both options position you as a foe in the long run. If you find yourself in a situation that requires the termination of a team member, it’s best to conduct the conversation by acknowledging your failure.
Realistically, if you haven’t provided a team member with the drive, motivation, or inspiration to perform in their role then you have failed them. You’ve hired them incorrectly and you’ve managed them incorrectly. By accepting the blame at the start of the conversation, you’re automatically relieving some of the tension that automatically bubbles up when an employee is about to be fired. Do not dwell on their failures. It only draws out what should be a short, frank conversation. Merely inform the employee that you’ve failed at giving them what they need and, as a result, they have been unable to meet your company needs. Thus it’s time to part ways.
Addressing underperformance in this manner will eliminate some of the decision-making stress that so often comes with tough calls. Determine whether your employee can do the job, and whether they want to do the job…and then proceed accordingly.