I’m guessing that managing a professional sports team is a hard job. And I’m guessing that one of the hardest things a coach does is something they have to often: decide who will and who won’t stay on the team. It’s never fun to let someone go, but it’s part of the job, and it’s important for your customers, clients and even other team members that this part of the job is done well. Now, here are a few “don’ts” which serve as tips for managing your team, learned from painful experiences over the years:
1. Don’t ignore performance.
Managers need to set clear performance objectives and then measure employee performance against those objectives. This isn’t always fast or easy. If you’re hiring for a technical role, it could take a lot of research before you’ll understand how to identify and measure reasonable performance expectations. Then, it will take more time (ongoing) to track an employee’s performance.
In 2008, my biller would blame the insurance companies for every claim that wasn’t paid, and there were plenty. I accepted those excuses because I didn’t know enough about billing to review her performance against a reasonable standard.
2. Don't avoid confrontation
Have candor. If someone is underperforming, sit down and talk to them about it. The best team members will quickly get back on track given the right direction. Others might refuse to accept a review that suggests their performance is anything less than ideal. You present a performance objective they missed, and they have excuses ready to go. The two most common excuses are:
- I’ve been too busy!
- Someone did (or didn’t do) something that prevented me from completing my objective.
- These are valid excuses, but both need to be brought up to a supervisor early, as soon as a team member starts falling behind. It’s not acceptable to use these excuses only after one has missed a deadline.
3. Don’t always give the benefit of the doubt.
We’ve all heard of the sunk cost fallacy, but none of us wants to think we’re subject to it ourselves. Here’s how it can look with employees: A team member has been nothing but problems, but he’s also working on a big project or a big sale. Every time the project is delayed (and it’s been delayed more than once) you’re told that it’s the home stretch. So you give him more time, and then more, and then more, than you ever wanted to give, but you’re really close now to this great new website or record-breaking sale.
You’re eating a wish sandwich. Cut your losses! Your problem employee isn’t on the verge of becoming a superstar.
4. Don’t ignore or downplay interpersonal problems.
Ignoring negative interpersonal relationships: this is one of those things that most managers think they’d never do, until they do. It happens slowly—a team member has interpersonal conflict with another team member. And then another. And another. You ignore it as office gossip, while office culture and employee morale slowly degrades. Don’t do this!
5. Don’t take too long.
Have you ever seen a “dead man walking?” It’s when everyone knows a person is going to either quit or get fired, but it hasn’t happened yet. It’s a distraction, and it’s difficult for the team as they attempt to navigate around this unresolved situation.
You’ll never regret letting someone go too soon, but you will always regret letting someone stay too long. A team member with poor performance; the longer they stay on, the more the likelihood they’ll do something that harms a customer, client, or the business.
Cutting ties with an employee is a last resort. That said, keeping someone on board who is a bad fit harms culture, morale, and service quality. Not to mention it creates unneeded stress! When you handle these situations with fairness for everyone in mind, the team members who remain know they’re part of a better, stronger, dedicated team.