When Do You Let Someone Go?


When do you let someone go? The short answer – when they become a pain in the butt.

An employee’s decision to continue to underperform technical responsibilities, display incompetent interpersonal skills, or both, creates the pain in the butt syndrome. Something needs to change.

The number one reason cited for underperformance is an employee not understanding what is expected. This is the supervisor’s fault and can be easily fixed. It is critical to spell out the performance objectives to be crystal clear and the employee can paraphrase to exhibit complete understanding.

Suppose an employee understands what is expected but doesn’t have the technical skills to meet the expectations. Again, this is a relatively easy fix by providing a training opportunity such as shadowing a more skilled colleague.

The lack of motivation to meet defined expectations is more difficult. It is possible to reverse the level of motivation, but doing so requires considerable effort from the supervisor. The psychological bottom line is for an employee to understand the ratio of disadvantages over advantages, i.e., D > A, for remaining an underperformer. Doing so helps the employee understand that electing to remain as is, is not the best option. This can jump start an underperforming employee.

Combine this dynamic with the ratio of advantages over disadvantages, i.e., A > D, to meet performance objectives to turn up the motivational thermostat. An important prerequisite is when an employee acquires this awareness as opposed to being told. Dictating to an employee is not going to get you where you want to go.

For our discussion, let’s assume the worst-case scenario with an employee who continues to underperform. Now is the time for a serious conversation. Ask the employee, “Do you want me to trust you?” Should the employee say, “No or I don’t really care” makes the decision easy for a supervisor to say, “I need people working with me whom I can trust. Here’s the supervisor’s punch line: “It’s okay if you don’t want me to trust you, but that isn’t okay here, and I’ll accept your resignation.”

The same conclusion could be reached if the employee says, “Yes, I want you to trust me.” This could lead the supervisor to reply, “Great, and I want to trust you. You can show me you’re trustworthy by meeting the agreed upon performance standards.”

Should the performance not improve, you may proceed with the final statement in the preceding paragraph.

That’s one down and one to go.

This is the more challenging category because these behaviors are more abstract. The most frequently cited complaint centers on an employee with a negative attitude. What constitutes a negative attitude? Is it someone who consistently trashes the dealership or other employees? Is it someone who is consistently complaining? Is it someone who is egotistical and acts as if they walk on water? Is it someone who does not support other team members or departments? You get the picture. A typical explanation for keeping this type of employee is we need a body or we need the person’s technical skills.

That brings us to a rotting apple that spreads poison throughout a barrel, and the healthy apples soon begin to rot. A supervisor must realize that accepting non-acceptable behaviors lowers the performance standard for other employees. A supervisor’s mortal sin!

The challenge when working with a bad attitude is defining the expected behavior in positive, empirical terms. Telling an employee to “stop being negative” isn’t going to succeed. A coin has two sides. So, when an employee consistently trashes other people or the dealership, the desired behavior is the opposite: support other employees or the dealership by talking about how good other employees perform or how proud you are to work in the dealership.

Again, the specificity to define the expected behavior is critical.

Focus throughout the day is another important element in the change formula. A supervisor may need to help maintain that focus by repeatedly asking an employee if they are having a good day? And remember showing the employee appreciation for a “good day” is necessary to support the behavioral change.

Self-monitoring has been demonstrated to be a tool to facilitate the change process. In other words, ask employees if they had a good or bad day as they exit the dealership at the end of the day and place a mark on the calendar representing the day’s performance.

Helping employees change requires a lot of time and work. The dealership must decide if the return on its time and effort investment will yield the expected returns. In closing, let me remind you of two realities. One, the dealership is a university to teach employees technical and interpersonal skills for success. Two, removing bad apples will have a positive influence on your dealership.

Writer’s note: In my next article, I’ll look at how cults handle leadership.

Written by Dr. Larry Cole

Larry Cole, Ph.D., is a lead trainer for and consultant to the Western Equipment Dealers Association’s Dealer Institute. He provides on-site training and public courses to improve business leadership effectiveness and internal and external customer service. Please send questions and/or comments to Larry at teammax100@gmail.com.


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