When should you give up? Too many people say, "NEVER!"
But the reality is, knowing when to give up on an employee separates great leaders from weak ones.
I'm way too soft as a leader. I come from the traditional leadership school of "we don't hire'em, to fire'em". I give people a thousand chances to reach their potential, and what I've found over time, right or wrong, is that most leaders do the same.
When employees become like family
If you're like me, the people who work for you become like family. As a good leader you're trained to get close to your people. And usually, if they know you care about them, they're more willing to give that magical discretionary effort.
The problem with leading this way is that it's really hard to fire family! You just don't give up on family. They disappoint you and you give them another chance. They break your heart and you give them another chance.
It's almost impossible to give up on family.
It's hard to have difficult performance conversations with family
From a work perspective the timeline of our difficult performance conversations usually looks something like this:
Step 1: You have "that" conversation with the employee. "Hey, is everything going alright? Anything I can help you with? You don't seem yourself." They invariably tell you they're fine, and they'll pull it together.
Step 2: They didn't pull it together, so now you need to have a formal, more difficult performance conversation. "Hey, we had that talk a while back. Things aren't getting better. Are you sure everything is okay?" Oh, yeah, for sure! "Well, given your current performance we're going to have to come to some agreements."
Step 3: You agreed; they forgot. "Look, you aren't meeting the goals or performance standards that we agreed to. What do we have to do to make sure this happens?" They lie, tell half-truths, or make a half-hearted attempt to make you believe this time is different. "Okay, well, if you feel that way, I have some very specific deliverables and a deadline I need them to be completed by. Here it is in writing."
The performance conversation can drag on and on
Okay, I just did that in three steps, but the reality is, in more organizations, these difficult performance conversations take anywhere from ten to twenty steps!
Most of those steps are conversation, after conversation, after conversation. Remember, this is family!
We hate giving up on an employee. Especially one who isn't an outright pain in our butt. If it's just a nice, regular old employee who's actually kind and acts like they half-care about life, they definitely get the twenty-step performance management package.
So, when do you know it's time to cut Uncle Rico from the team?
Eventually, you have to get to real deliverables and a hard timeline. And that employee has to show you they can do it.
If an employee proves to you they aren't willing to deliver, they're showing you they don't want to be part of your family any longer.
That's when you need to give up on an employee.