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Two Strikes and You’re Out!

Who ever heard of two strikes and you’re out? The answer is – most of my clients. This is not an article about baseball, but about how many chances you give someone before cutting them loose, as in termination. Let me explain: If you are a manager that is well experienced, then why do you need to wait when you see the more than obvious signs on the wall telling you that this person is not going to work out. You also know it from the inside out, as in that little voice inside that isn’t so little because it’s screaming – End This Now! A less experienced manager does not have the experience bank to draw upon and therefore, may need five or six strikes to conclude what can be seen in two. Of course, if you are with a large institution that has protocol to follow, then obviously you must follow it. However, you can start the process of warnings, etc. sooner than later.

When working my first contract with a state government (not in Maryland) I would hear the complaint that it takes years to let someone go. I would then look at my watch and say, “We better get started this afternoon because we don’t have a minute to lose.” Then I would say, “I don’t want to be sitting here this time next year hearing you complain about this person, while you have done nothing to correct the problem.” No doubt there is a lot to consider before termination. Has the person been given fair warning, has the manager implemented a behavior change strategy or are you trying to correct a weakness instead of concentrating on the person’s strengths. (Research has proven that concentrating on a person’s strengths produces more and better sustainable results.)

And how does a manager change behavior? By increasing the frequency of meeting with their direct reports, turning up goal setting (the direct report setting their goals, not you setting the goals for them) and consistent follow up on said goals (accountability) it is possible to change a person’s behavior. I’m sure you’ve heard the old saying that “attitude is everything.” Attitude is huge, no doubt, but it’s not everything. An employee can have the best attitude in the world, but if the results are not there, assuming they have been given the proper training and have been managed, then you more than likely have a person that is not the correct fit for the position. Gallup research has also shown that while conventional wisdom has a manager selecting a person based on their experience, intelligence and determination, GREAT managers select for talent … not simply experience, intelligence, or determination.

Determining the natural and learned talent of an individual may not be so easy, but it is the key ingredient for the best hire. I have found that there is an astonishing percentage of the workforce that is miscast, i.e. – not well suited for the job. Terminating this person, or if possible, moving them into a position that they are better suited for is doing them a big favor. This is truly a spiritual thing to do, because it is the truth. Keeping Johnny because he has three kids in college is not helping him or the organization when he not doing the job. And as harsh as it may seem, you must keep the organizational health a priority. This doesn’t mean that you fire a person who is suddenly not performing because he/she is going through a personal problem that is affecting their job. How long you can tolerate the personally troubled employee depends upon the economic health of the organization and/or how much the poor performance of the person affects the other employees. And speaking of affecting the other employees – how fair is it to them when a manager tolerates poor performance of any employee for an extended period of time? Ask the employees anonymously and they will tell you how much they don’t like a poor performing peer let alone a manager who allows it.

There are a lot of ifs, ands, and buts to this scenario, but to the well experienced manager; pull the plug on the second strike. Make sure when you do it that you are allowing the fairest economic settlement possible and go out of your way to provide a soft landing elsewhere.

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