(This post is written for alumni of LEAD365, although all are welcome to read it.)

What do you do when you realize that someone on your team is doing more harm than good? This isn’t a hypothetical question. Take a moment to think about yourself and your workplace culture. What happens when you have an employee who would serve the company better by getting paid to stay home instead of coming into work? This can be for a lot of reasons—poor cultural fit, wrong skill set to do the work, bad habits that affect the team—whatever the reason, it’s time to move this person off the bus. Some corporate cultures support healthy dialogue and movement off the team. Some do not. We at Leading by DESIGN have worked with all kinds of corporate cultures, and we believe that the freedom to move people off the team in a caring, honest way is an indicator of a healthy work culture.

Before moving someone off the team, you must first have a series of honest conversations. Talk to the person about the problem behavior. Lay out a plan of action together to improve whatever is going wrong. Then follow up and follow through. When doing this, it’s important to stay connected to the person, to listen to them, and to stay calm. This kind of honest feedback can be hard for people to hear, and it’s important to make sure that the lines of communication between you and your team member stay wide open. These kinds of conversations can turn someone around, whether it means getting them extra training to do the job or helping them see a blind spot in their behavior.

If, after working the plan (or not working it) and lots of honest conversations you still don’t see the changes you need to see in your team member, it’s time to move them off the bus. There are three ways to do this:

  1. Mutual agreement
  2. Opportunity to resign before being let go.
  3. Outright firing

Mutual agreement

This is by far the best way to end a working relationship. In this kind of transition, you both know it’s not working, and the team member exits on their own, either to another job that will be a better fit or to something else. Either way, it’s much better for the person leaving to be the one to make that decision, even if the decision came about because of some hard conversations. Hopefully in this case you’ve had the opportunity to demonstrate honest, caring feedback, and the person leaves with even greater respect for you as a leader, despite no longer working with you.

Opportunity to resign before being let go.

In this case, the person has not found something else, but you can’t wait for them to do so. Either they are hurting the team too much, it’s taking too much time for them to leave on their own, or they don’t see the problem in their behavior. This is a way to let them make a graceful exit, without giving them a choice about whether or not they will exit the company at that time. Their time with the organization is done, and they can choose how they will leave. Often resigning means a severance package or career counseling—some incentive to help them move into the next stage of their career. And again, this should only come after a lot of conversation and opportunities to change.

Outright firing

And then there comes a time when you have no options but to fire someone. Sometimes an employee does something egregious and has to be let go immediately. Sometimes it occurs after some conversation and opportunity to change. Whatever gets you to this point, make sure that you are prepared for the emotional work of firing. A paper trail explaining the reasons for the firing is very important. You may want a third person or security available. No matter the situation, work hard to stay nonreactive. This is an anxious situation, and your calm response as a leader may help the person you’re firing be a bit more calm as well.

Moving someone off the bus is never easy. The best way to do this is to avoid it altogether by hiring well. That won’t always happen, and sometimes leaders inherit teams with individuals who are not able to get onboard with a new vision or a new leader. Whatever the reason, when you have a team member who is doing more harm then good, ask yourself how much of your mission you are willing to sacrifice to keep that person employed. If your workplace culture supports moving people off the bus, great. Your mission is too important to sacrifice. If your workplace culture does not support that, you might have to have some harder conversations up the chain of command, doing what you can to change the living system and culture, and recognizing what is in your power to change, and what is not.

No matter who you are or where you work, communication is essential in building a great team, and some of the hardest communication happens when you have to move someone off the bus. Next week I’ll write more about building a great team, specifically about developing individuals and developing the team as a whole. Until then, take care.

Image by misteraitch. Used under CC by 2.0 license.