How to Cut Your Losses and Move On
Trajectory predicts the future.
Minimize the negative impact of laggards by managing them up or out. Give employees on the rise freedom, opportunity, authority, and position.
Experience suggests you have, on average, a 60/40 chance of getting people-decisions right.
You hired them. You’re reluctant to acknowledge that their trajectory points downward.
Hope blinds leaders to hard realities.
Every person has trajectory.
Don’t go down with people who are going down. Lift them up or out.
Downward trajectory begins with attitude.
- Inverted navals. Everything’s about me. I can’t get out of myself.
- Black holes. Its not that bad. Its horrid!
- Fat heads. I always know.
- Life-vesties. Please don’t rock the boat. Change makes my belly hurt.
- Finger pointers. I didn’t do anything wrong. But, they did!
- Foot-draggers. I’ll get to that later. Much later!
- Peacocks. You’re lucky to have me. I’m entitled.
Trajectory is about attitude not skill.
Pour energy into those with passion to improve; cut your loses with those who don’t.
- Compassion and opportunity to change trajectory.
- Clarity regarding performance and expectations.
- Increased oversight and firm accountability.
- Fewer opportunities.
Push laggards to the fringes and major contributors to the center.
Place your hope in people on the rise.
5 foundations of hope:
- Recent performance.
- Aspiration for development.
- Drive to make a difference.
- Taking responsibility.
- Elevating projects to new levels.
7 requirements for upward trajectory:
- Openness to learn, which includes willingness to acknowledge failure.
- Unreserved buy-in to mission and vision.
- Transparency regarding motives and intentions.
- Clear – agreed upon – expectations.
- Commitment to service.
- Leveraging their sweet spot where opportunity, passion, and skill converge.
- Consistent feedback, along with openness to receive it.
Honor people with upward trajectory. You get what you honor.
How can leaders manage out poor performers.
How can leaders develop and maximize employees who are on the rise?
with new hires, it’s especially important to make a fair assessment in the evaluation period and cut ties if necessary. It seems cruel, but it’s better for all involved.
Thanks Bill. This is a tough topic for sure. But, as you indicate, dealing with it is better for all involved.
Your first list of seven would make good chapter titles for a book! You could add the Woundid brothers as well (Mort, Al, and Lee), who almost always take offense at small things and need to be coddled.
In the “manage out” list, I prefer to not use “fewer opportunities” and “demotions”, unless the person is truly overwhelmed and looking for less stress, because I’ve never found a way of obtaining improved performance as a result. It is usually a path to a painful separation that should have happened earlier.
In smaller organizations, people can reach a point where there simply aren’t enough opportunities to create a stretch challenge for them. They will then have to make a personal decision to leave, to develop themselves with new training or education, or find some other way of continuing to grow. For the good of both the organization and its star performers, the leader should address this early, with openness and trust, and without manipulation. If the person decides to leave for personal growth, the leader needs to respect and honor this decision. If not, the leader must do his/her best to support the member’s personal growth in the organization.
Love your additions. 🙂
Regarding the manage out list. Something in me says you are right. But, the developer in me wants to give people an opportunity. Perhaps reassignment better reflects my actual behavior.
It feels odd that I’m the one advocating for a slower, gentler approach. Cheers
I agree that due process is in order. I tend to take more time than most to separate people from the organization – in fact the last time I did it one of the peers of the dismissed person’s first remark was “What took you so long?” I responded that I wanted to be sure the person was given every chance to succeed. That being said, I absolutely do not want a person on the team who is kept because I fear the separation process, reprisals, or making them uncomfortable. It is far better to be very generous with severance, to own the failure personally, and to help them get on with their lives than to have unhappy people who perform poorly and cause other strong performers to become disengaged.
I remember firing a “peacock” with “inverted navel” in the early 1990’s. He was totally surprised, thought the discussions and specifics we had discussed over several months were bluff, as his former boss would scream and yell, then allow him to continue. The firing process was painful for both of us. He started his own boutique consulting firm soon after, and did well. About a decade later, I invited his firm to do some subcontract work for us. His remarks to me went something like this, “Firing me was the best thing that ever happened to me. I had to face who I was and change, then start over. You obviously didn’t like doing it, but did what you thought was right.” His firm completed the subcontract successfully. We’ve since lost contact, as I’ve moved.
“What took you so long.”
Ask people who deal with these issues and they usually say, “I should have acted sooner.”
But, as you say, be generous. Or, err on the side of mercy. Which in this case means, take more time than you may need to.
I feel like this goes against the hire slow/fire fast advice I often hear.
This post is very affirming Dan. Thanks for your consistency!
This is great stuff (as usual). Timely, as well! Trajectory is a nice framework to facilitate that tough conversation when each snapshot is “just good enough” or a strong average.
Thanks drmatt. Glad you appreciate “trajectory.” It’s something I watch closely both organizationally and with individuals. I get real concerned with things stay flat for too long. The next direction is usually down.
I also feel responsibility to intervene to shift trajectory from down to up.
Openness to learn and willingness to acknowledge failure is .great suggestion. It can transform the person. But it takes courage and determination. We learn more when we are willing to unlearn. Effort taken in unlearning is greater than learning new things. And most of the times, our inability to unlearn creates bottleneck for our progress. Encouragement and push can lift poor performers. Many times they are not aware about their capabilities. So, leaders need to make them realize about their potential and capabilities.
I appreciate that hope blinds us. When we are unable to achieve hope, we tend to disappoint. This can be overcome by working in right direction with full conviction and dedication. Appreciation and interaction about rising employees can push them for extra effort. In the organisations, many outstanding people lag because of lack of encouragement, acknowledgment and interaction.
Thanks Dr. Gupta. Glad you brought up the unlearning idea. After all, we do what we do because we think it’s the right thing to do. NOT because we think it’s wrong.
Refusing to unlearn has caused me years of headache!
Top of the mornin to ya Dan;
In the past many leaders assumed that if they could just keep things running ong a steady, even keel, their organizations would remain successful. However in todays climate of constant change nothing is certain anymore.Leadership is NOT just about top down influence of others as many ‘old-school’ definitions presume. A leader is an integral part of a systemconnected and driven by relationships, ‘the good, the bad, and the ugly’.Failure to recognize the power of relationshipscan result in organizational disater; disatisfaction, and dead weight.
Leaders are in a position to display generocity, (or the lack thereof), daily. Generocity given, invites generocity in return, (we reap what we sow).True generocity requires really getting to know your people, their needs and concerns while allowing them to get to know you. If we as leadersxspect exceptional effort from our employees, we as leaders ‘MUST GIVE’ exceptional effort to geeting to know those who work for us. Autocratic, ego driven leaders believe they are at the center of the univerce. These leaders feel it’s the subordinates respondsability to get to know them, giving little to no consideration to the needs and motivations of others. If you are this type of leader, do not waste a moment of your time wondering why others give you sub-par, or, satisfactory performance at best.Creating a giving workplace culture does not happen by accident. It takes purpose and commitment. Positive cultural change is a Noble cause, BUT, once ‘your’ effort stops, exspect others to stop as well.
The leaders level of success starts and ends with their own behavior and beliefs. You ‘must’ first believe in your people. You will find that when YOU change your beliefs, you change your perspectives, which changes your thinking, which changes your behavior, which changes EVERYTHING…
Mark Twain once said, “Keep away from those who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people aways do that. But the really great make you believe you can become great”.
Bout time to get together for breakfast don’t cha think???
Well said Paul…
Thanks SGT. Great hearing from you!
Love the use of generosity in the relationship context. Letting people know us and taking time to know them is an act of generosity. So powerful!
Not much happens by accident. I think a big concern is if I take the bull by the horns will I make things better or worse?
PS Yes, breakfast would be great.
The heart of the matter is integrity (wholeness), and the expressiveness of integrity through authenticity. Each of us can control our attitude, what we choose to do (and how hard to work at it), and how to take care of ourselves. When someone is not performing to standard, we have a conversation focused on the observable data of the situation; what is expected and where the project is going based on performance thus far. The heart of the conversation becomes whether the person is authentically committed to the project. Perhaps not. Then that person’s leaving is as good for the person as the organization, because he or she will only be whole if he or she is spending the precious moments of life serving what rings true in his or her heart. (Now, of course, I don’t use those words in the conversation, but that is the spirit I take into the dialogue.)
Thanks Paul. One question I love asking is, “On a scale from 1 to 10, how committed are you?” We should find out their commitment level before we start dealing with performance issues.
People suffering from downward trajectories happens at all levels. People in leadership positions often are the worst offenders of this. Senior leaders must not put a blind eye to this. They must straighten up these wayward leaders and if that does not work … get rid of them! Employees being led by these leaders must lead up and sometimes OVER their heads to make improvements.
Thanks alot because i have found help through your emails am now thinking like a leader
Many of you have said it so well.