As business owners and managers, we’ve all experienced internal conflict regarding what to do about an under-performing team member. Obviously, turnover is a huge expense, especially when you think about all the time and money you invested in that individual, from recruiting to training to certifications. Most people also feel some personal loyalty to their team members, but at some point, what really matters is their commitment to growth and results.

When a team member doesn’t seem to be following the vision or goals of the company and we’re not sure what to do, we find ourselves in the battle between firing them or giving them another chance. In most small businesses, we end up spending as much time with our team members at the company as we do with our families, which inevitably creates a personal bond. We learn about their families, who they are as people, their interests and their personalities.

We start to like them as people, not just team members, which creates a bigger struggle when they aren’t performing at the level they need to be. Nobody wants to fire someone they like or have an attachment to. Nobody wants to fire somebody with a family to support. Heck, the reality is, for the most part, nobody really wants to fire anyone, ever.

If we are committed to our clients, our entire team and the vision of the company, we must be able to ask ourselves a few questions that can help to make this difficult decision a little easier. I’ve had to fire many people in the course of my leadership career and it doesn’t feel good, regardless of the circumstances. However, when you have clear expectations, train the necessary skillset and mindset, and keep the overall well-being of the company in the forefront, you can quickly separate yourself from being the “bad person” if a termination is necessary.


Making the decision

I firmly believe that each team member I’ve ever had to terminate has actually fired themselves, based on their own lack of commitment and accountability, ineffective actions and poor results.

That being said, it can still be difficult, and we all need to question ourselves and our systems regarding the choice to fire or not to fire. When faced with a challenging decision regarding setting someone free to move on to another opportunity, or focusing on helping them re-train or build new skillsets, here are a few questions to help you find clarity:

1. Do they understand the expectation? I’ve discovered a lot of front-line team members don’t have absolute clarity about what is expected of them in order to continue employment with the company. Each team member should have a well-defined job description, but they also need to understand what is expected of them (in specific detail) on a daily, weekly, monthly and annual basis.

For example, if your techs don’t have benchmarks regarding sales, conversions, service agreements and reviews, how will they know if they are succeeding? You must have clear-cut expectations and goals your team understands so they know on a daily basis if they’re winning or not in their particular position. Performance-based coaching needs to take place, as well as a quarterly one-on-one coaching session to keep everyone on track.

2. Have you trained them effectively? We all love to find those superstar team members who have been trained somewhere else and understand how our overall system works. Even then, each company is different, and you still have to train them in your systems and integrate them into your culture. As leaders, we must take full responsibility for ensuring our entire team receives the training necessary to do their job effectively and execute at the highest level for our clients.

It’s also crucial to have everyone on the same page, speaking the same language and moving in the same direction. This is a direct result of consistent, effective training. If you can’t look yourself in the eyes and know you’ve given them all the necessary training, then it is not completely their fault they aren’t hitting the numbers or goals you desire.

3. Have you given them necessary coaching? The average NFL team has 18 coaches and 53 players. This means an average of about 3 players per coach! Certainly, this is not our reality regarding team member to manager ratio, but it should shed some light on the importance of coaching peak performance. Just because you’ve trained a team member once, twice or even three times in a particular area does not mean you are done.

It’s also necessary to give personalized coaching when a team member is struggling in a certain area. Give them advice, have a fellow team member help them and have them watch some training videos that address their specific issue. Ongoing, productive coaching is always necessary to help team members continue to grow and prosper.

4. Do they have the willingness or ability? The final (and perhaps most valuable) question to ask yourself has to do with willingness. Willingness and ability can be easily misinterpreted. If a person isn’t willing to do something, it can be a result of not knowing or understanding how to do it (lack of ability). Yet, if you have trained them effectively and given them the ability and they still won’t do something, you can see that it’s an issue of willingness. Determine if their lack of achievement is due to an issue of willingness or ability. If a team member is struggling with ability, then I wholeheartedly believe in training, re-training and coaching.

I believe in employees who have a tremendous desire and are showing massive commitment and some steady forward progress. However, if they are simply unwilling to utilize the training or participate in the company’s overall vision and goals, then it becomes a clear decision that it’s time to set them free. You can help them with ability, but you can’t always help them with the willingness to improve and succeed.

Evaluating whether to keep someone or set them free is almost always challenging. However, when you remain as objective as possible and ask yourself these four questions, it can help give you tremendous clarity regarding your decision. Avoid being held hostage by consistently communicating your vision and values to your team, keeping them involved, and continuing to train and coach those who really desire to succeed as part of your culture and team.