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  • Writer's pictureAJ Cheponis

Seven Key Questions Every Leader Must Ask Before Letting Someone Go

If you have worked in the professional world as a leader for any length of time you have undoubtedly found yourself managing a team member who was failing to live up to expectations. While it might be tempting to terminate a person if their performance is sub-par, the turnover may cost more than you realize.

A study by the Center for American Progress suggests replacing an employee can cost over 20% of their annual salary while the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) pegs that number as high as 50%-60%, and that doesn’t even take into account the indirect costs, which SHRM suggests could be up to 90% to 200% of their salary.

When employees are struggling to succeed, first ask yourself if they're a behavioral, cognitive, and cultural fit. If they are, it's your job as a leader to remove the roadblocks that keep them from using their talents and skills to push your company forward.

Before you consider letting someone go, ask yourself the following questions.

1. Is this person in the right seat?

Skills aside, are they a behavioral and cognitive fit for the role? Have you taken the time to create a model of the role and assess each candidate for fit? Too often companies rely heavily on the person’s resume and a series of somewhat subjective questions.

2. Do they need training?

In today’s fast-paced organizations, formal training is often overlooked as many hiring managers expect that the applicant has learned everything, they need to know somewhere else.

3. Do they live your core values?

Are you certain you’ve interviewed the person for a cultural fit? If they are a fit, are you living your values and rewarding behaviors that support your values? When you tolerate someone breaking your fundamental values just because they’re a high performer, it sends the message to your entire team that your core values aren’t really important.

4. Is it a leadership issue?

Have your leaders been trained in how to effectively communicate with their teams? Knowing how each person on your team needs to receive information is a game-changer for most companies.

5. How much coaching has been provided?

Managing and coaching are different areas of specialization – are you using a coach who understands your goals and objectives or are you expecting your manager to be a coach? Coaches focus on asking clarifying questions to help the employee uncover the root cause of a problem and develop their action plan, rather than telling the employee the plan to follow.

6. Did the person break a policy?

Policies come in all shapes and sizes, and most people read employee handbooks like they read the terms and agreements on websites they visit. Clarify the policy in question and make sure it wasn’t a simple miscommunication. Sometimes the message sent isn’t the message received.

7. Why are they not producing?

It’s easy to point the finger at an individual for not getting something done. Have you truly dug in and identified the root cause of the problem? Many times, what we see is NOT the fundamental cause of the problem.

How do leaders share the news with other employees to minimize the impact on morale?

Any decision to let someone go can be traumatic to the team. Trauma will lead to disengagement. This can be completely avoided by taking the time to explain the decision to your team and should NEVER be avoided. Be transparent and upfront about the steps you took to help get them to where they needed to be. This will clarify your pattern of behavior for your team and will find comfort in knowing that there will be coaching and training before letting someone go. And remember to open the floor up for questions and conversation.

Remember, trust is the foundation of any great team. If you wait until you need to explain why you let someone go to start building trust with your team, you’re too late. The more trust they have in you as a leader, the more they'll trust you to do the right thing when things go wrong. Should a situation force you to choose between sticking to your values or sweeping things under the rug, you'll be able to show your team that your core values are more than just words.

Making the decision to let someone go is never easy. Sometimes, it is the best solution for your organization and for the person in question. By taking the time to ask yourself these seven questions, you can help to ensure that you have exercised every option to help an underperforming employee thrive, before incurring the financial and morale-related costs that can come with having to replace an underperformer.

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