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Dave Conrad: Know when to fire an employee

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Dear Dave: Where I work, we are bad at terminating people who need to be let go. My fellow managers will side-step this obligation and it is causing us to keep poor performers in their jobs. When is it time to let people go? Any ideas? — T

Dear T: It is a fact that not everyone is going to fit in with the mission and goals of your company. Accordingly, keeping an employee around who isn't contributing positively, or is negatively impacting the culture, can really hurt a company. If the employee will not or cannot change, the manager must let them go.

I think the single greatest resource managers must manage is people. To sustain energy and engagement, and to retain the best talent, leaders must make the workplace an enjoyable and productive place for themselves and their teams. But this does not mean coddling inept or poisonous workers. There are limits and they must be defined.

Many managers think they have failed if they need to fire someone -- maybe they haven't tried hard enough, or maybe they were not clear about goals and tasks, or even it may be because they didn't train the employee well enough. I think smart managers know when they have done their best and it is time to show the employee the door.

First, let me say if you have evaluated an employee's performance, attitude, motivation and cultural fit and decide it's in your company's best interest to let him or her go, you still need to consider legal issues. You should consult with your HR specialist immediately before making any decisions.

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Because terminating someone is such a big decision, it helps to have an unemotional and objective way to measure the impact of the decision. Try using a checklist to determine termination costs and advantages. Here are some checklist considerations:

Ask this question:Are they actually trying, or are they refusing, to get better? If the answer is refusal, you need to part ways with them. Remember, your other employees are watching to see how you handle performance problems with their co-workers, so you must act swiftly, though fairly, to take care of business.

• Not performing to expectations:When you review their performance with them — and I hope you do — if they're failing to meet their expectations repeatedly, they may not be a good fit for your team, especially, if they're pushing responsibilities onto other colleagues, causing them additional stress.

• Attitude check:I believe negative attitudes drive negative behavior. Is their attitude negatively affecting other people? Are you getting complaints from your other workers about the bad attitudes of specific employees? Employees who talk negatively about co-workers and managers create toxic environments. If they are "poisoning the well," say "Adios."

• Bad behavior is getting worse:I think most employees will work harder when given an unfavorable performance review that is well-reasoned and objective. On the other hand, if you find your improvement efforts are met by disinterest, disengagement or even worse, performance, you have done your job and it is time to part ways.

• You're getting customer complaints:As I have said many times in past columns, if customers are not fully satisfied, your business will suffer. So, when they're dissatisfied on a regular basis as a result of an employee's work, attitude or behavior, you must seriously consider whether to keep this person on board.

In summary, it's never pleasant to consider terminating an employee. But if you've tried to help him or her improve through training, feedback, mentorship and a formal performance-improvement plan and the problems remain, it's probably best to terminate the employee.

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