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Fire fast, not last.

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Here is one that takes a real leap for a younger manager or CEO to believe.  After hiring someone with all the attendant enthusiasm followed by the training and learning curve, if an employee shows signs of weakness in the job or problems dealing with contemporaries, it is the natural tendency for most of us to go first into coaching mode, and reset the observation clock to see if our excellent coaching does the job.

A month or so later, when no apparent change has been noticed, we may move from coaching to a polite warning and maybe even the dreaded note-to-file.  Another month, and the probability of a decision to separate becomes obvious and the move initiated.  Lawyers will tell you that this progressive chain of moves is good for the company, protecting against lawsuits by a disgruntled former employee.

Then there is the ninety-day clock to consider.  In most states, employees gain rights after the ninetieth day on the job that make it more difficult to fire an underperforming employee without careful documentation of reasons for concern.

[Email readers, continue here…]  But – before or after that ninety day line – surprisingly, in post-exit interviews after emotions have dissipated, most former employees (who were handled respectfully during the separation process) and most managers will agree that the move should have been made sooner.  The former employee will often state that he or she was at least somewhat unhappy in the job, knowing that the fit was not as good as it should be. The manager will most often admit that he or she did not move aggressively, following best judgment in coaching the employee toward separation much earlier.

Firing fast in most every case is best for everyone, as opposed to long, drawn out sessions and stressful employee periods of waiting for a verdict in between sessions.  It does sound counter-intuitive. But I would believe the post-exit interviews.  Why not conduct your own survey of fellow executives and managers and see what they think.  If they agree, you should re-calibrate your expectations and act sooner, with the important caveat that employees must always be treated with respect.  Remember that there are many times when documentation to file is a required protection for the company against possible lawsuits, especially by protected classes of employees.

  • Michael O'Daniel

    I have worked at companies that went out of business because they held on to employees who were in key positions too long.

  • Terry Kay

    Thanks for this critical reminder. Absolutely true but somehow we can’t seem to learn the lesson once and for all. Perhaps we forget that it’s a real win/win. Hoping an employee will change is unfortunately a bad bet for all parties.

  • Woody

    Hi Dave,

    All your emails are well done, but this one was even better than that. Well done!

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