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Expert Answers to Biz Questions

Listen in! Pick up some expert advice to a reader's question that we selected from CyberSchmooz.

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When (Not) to Give up on an Employee

 

It is never easy. As a small business owner or manager, you have invested time into an employee but the results aren’t there. They have huge potential or were a star but they can’t seem to break through their current difficulties. Knowing when to let someone go and when to persevere is not an easy decision but is key to the success of your business and to the success of the employee. Much of it will depend on your mindset as a leader and also the state of your business.

Can You Afford to Persevere?

A struggling business with limited resources may not have the capacity to persevere with an employee. In such a situation, a utilitarian approach needs to be taken: the good of the many over the good of a few. As an owner or a manager, you need to determine if persevering with the struggling employee will stop you from keeping other employees or will hurt the business as a whole.

 

In contrast, a business that is performing well has more scope to persevere with a struggling employee without it impacting others.

Should You Persevere?

The question of can you persevere is however very different from the question of should you persevere with a struggling employee.

 

Some business leaders may look at the situation on a cost-benefit basis. The employee did provide a huge benefit to the company or could provide a huge benefit but is currently incurring a cost to the company. How do the past and future benefits compare to the expected continuing cost?

 

Other business leaders may even apply the cost-benefit analysis more narrowly. Is the employee proving a benefit over their cost now? What have you done for me lately?

 

Other leaders may be looking at the whole situation from a completely different perspective. Have I done enough to help the employee? What more can I do? The leader as the steward or servant is something enlightened CEOs often say but it is difficult to do. Under such an approach, the employee’s value is more than their past, present, or future abilities. The owner’s or manager’s relationship with the employee has an intrinsic value. The person also needs to be treated with dignity and compassion concerning their circumstances.

 

Leaders also need to consider the impact on other employees. Nothing occurs in a vacuum. An overly utilitarian approach may motivate the performance of others but may come at the cost of loyalty and morale. A servant-leadership approach may build loyalty but some may take advantage of it. The impact will likely differ by person but you need to consider the current culture of your business.

 

Of course, if the employee is simply toxic in their behavior and impact, then you cannot afford to not let them go!

How to Let Them Go or to Persevere

Once can and should have been determined, the last and most difficult step is how to let the employee go or persevere with them, depending on what you have decided.

 

Of course, you should always obey the relevant laws and any contractual requirements. For some leaders, this may be enough.

 

Others may want to use a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) with clear KPIs and determinable outcomes.

 

Some leaders may find a PIP’s focus on poor performance self-fulfilling and instead may try to use a more employee-led model with a focus on self-assessment and development. Regular informal feedback can also help.

 

In both the PIP and employee-led approaches coaching, mentorship, and education can play a key role.

 

Coaching and mentorship do not have to come from within the business or even from someone the employee already knows. There is an increasing number of mentorship platforms emerging.

 

Likewise, education can be informal and from within the company or it can take advantage of the plethora of courses, platforms, and online portals now available.

 

Whatever your approach on how to let someone go or how to persevere with them, the best method is to give the person as much agency and information as possible. People respond best when they feel they can control and predict their fate.

Consistency Is Your Friend

To make things easier it is also important to make the how consistent. Make it a policy and apply it the same way every time (or as close as you can). This will not only give greater certainty to your workers but will also eliminate much of the weight of the decision from your shoulders.

Develop Yourself as a Leader

Lastly don’t forget to keep developing yourself as a leader. When you sharpen your leadership skills, you will be able to handle difficult situations more easily and will find new solutions.

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