A decision that every leader has to make is when to “upgrade to a better employee”. Always a difficult decision because it means that an employee will likely be terminated or demoted. However, a leader has to see the big picture and make decisions that are best for the organization. This is why we say it is lonely at the top! It sometimes is very lonely. So when do you upgrade to a better employee? Twenty plus years of personnel recruitment has taught me that the wrong answer is – “When a better person comes along”! That is leaving the success of the position to chance or fate but not smart management.
The right answer can depend on circumstances, but a general guideline is that you should consider “upgrading” when an employee is incapable or unwilling to perform up to the company’s needs. Insubordination, disruptive behavior, bad personal habits are other common reasons that employees are terminated. During good times when business is strong, managers often overlook a “weak link” on their staff. In good times there is more money in the budget for staffing and an underachiever’s workload is often spread among others to help. In lean times, staffs are stretched and the under achievers’ performances tend to stick out and can bring a department down. Before replacing an employee I advise a checklist that covers these points: Does employee need more training ? Better oversight ? A Mentor to work with ? More support? Do you have the ability to provide these if needed?
More Training : Frequently you have a good employee who wants to perform well and has the abilities but they need more training. Sometimes the training can be done at the company such as a finance company with a 20 person collection staff. They can have the employee trained while on the job with a seasoned person. Sometimes a person can enroll in an online class to address specific needs. Is there a training company, seminar etc. that you can send the employee to for additional training? My goal for employees is being “Brilliant at the Basics”.
Better Oversight: Is the underachieving employee aware of their “status” as under achieving? Do they know specifically what to do to fix the problem? Many employees are aware that they are not performing up to expectations but do not know what changes to make to correct the problem. They want to perform well, but they need help. Employees like to have clear objectives and goals. Tracking of their goals and reporting to the employee is very helpful and pretty standard management practice. However many managers get too busy and do not give employees the attention they may need.
Here is a great example of Oversight: An automotive finance company we work with has an extensive branch network. When a Branch Manager is underperforming they put him on a 90 day plan.
- They assess where the Manager is underperforming and communicate this to the Manager
- Layout the plan of what needs to be done to correct the issue(s)
- A Regional Manager will take responsibility for helping the Branch Manager
- Every 30 days the Branch Manager’s performance is assessed and communicated to him.
This is fair to the Manager and allows the Manager to make adjustments. With such oversight most Managers can correct course and those who cannot are not be surprised if they are terminated.
A Mentor: Sometimes a seasoned employee can formally or informally mentor an employee. Mentoring often helps the Mentor as much as the student. The old saying is “the best way to really learn a subject is to teach it”. Is there a person on staff who can take a roll in helping the employee? Many employees who aspire to a management position often like to mentor other employees. Most of the top leaders I know like to put most of their time into mentoring their “Star” employees. They want to be fair to those who are falling behind. However as a leader your time may be best used supporting the high performers. Most top leaders do not like to spend much of their time with those who are always behind. Business is tough and not everyone is suited to your work.
More Support: Does the employee need more support by the company? Better equipment, daily meetings, newer software, Daily Planners? Perhaps the employee needs to better understand the big picture and how their work fits into this big picture. Does the employee need to get out and go on a sales call, repair call, trade show? Are there industry periodicals that would help the person?
Time to Upgrade: When these are exhausted, it may be time to consider upgrading to a better employee. I see many executives who should replace a manager who is in “over their head” or has personal issues that are hurting their performance and affecting other employees and of course, the company’s bottom-line! A President of a subprime automotive finance company taught me his philosophy. He explained that if a person is not a strong fit in his company he will move them out quickly. This, he explained, has 2 benefits. First it gives another person the opportunity to excel in the position. Secondly it gives the terminated employee the opportunity to find a position that he is better suited to so that he too has an opportunity excel!
When dealing with my employees I keep this in mind: Be firm, kind and consistent when making such choices. But remember, it is lonely at the top and tough decisions sometimes need to be made.