This is one of the most difficult questions CEOs of all ages ask themselves. Our Vistage Chair constantly asks the CEOs in our group, “Are the people who got you to this level in your business, going to be the ones who get you to the next one? What do you need to do differently? And how can you go about doing it?
Stomachs start to tense. Sweat breaks out in the room. Questions that immediately rise to the surface include:
- “I know my manager is not right for me, but how can I let him go?” What about loyalty? He started with me. Don’t I owe him?
- “My assistant has been with me for a long time and she depends on her income. Maybe she hasn’t kept up-to-date but maybe that is my fault, not hers. I didn’t really push her.
- Is it me or is it her? Am I the problem? Maybe I didn’t provide the training and support. Maybe I need to try harder?
- What if I say good-bye to him and I get someone worse to replace him? At least I know him.
- How do I determine that they are the wrong fit for my business? Maybe I am expecting too much.
How many hours have you spent contemplating these questions? How much worry and stress has this caused you? And what about conflict with your spouse, your other employees and your business coach?
We recently had an old friend of ours who is the Senior Partner in his law firm visit us with his wife. During dinner, the subject of his assistant came up and my husband and I remembered a similar conversation from five years ago. The assistant was well paid ($70,000 plus benefits), and she was absent a lot due to vacation, sickness and family emergencies. She didn’t get along with the junior attorneys because she kept on giving them work (PowerPoint presentations, copying and filing that she didn’t want to or was incapable of doing), and she didn’t get along with our friend’s spouse. But our friend, who is a great litigator and known to be extremely tough in court, is unable to make the decision to say good-bye to her. Why does this happen to so many of us? What can we do about it?
These are all valid questions and need to be addressed. But let me ask another one. If this problem employee (or employees) came in tomorrow and told you that he or she was leaving for a new opportunity, what would your emotions be?
If you are thinking relief, joy and happiness, it is time to make a plan. It could honestly be that you are part of the problem, that you didn’t address issues soon enough, that you didn’t discuss small mistakes and are now finding it difficult to address big ones, but regardless of your culpability, it may be too late to make it right and it is time to start over with someone new (as long as you are committed to learning from this mistake...otherwise as George Santayana, wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.")
How do you allow them to leave with dignity and respect?
This is a tough situation and you need to handle it very well.
I spoke to HR consultant Emmett Scully and we have the following tips:
1. Plan in advance what you are going to say and role-play it with someone.
2. Keep it simple.
“We are making some changes, and there is no longer a place in the organization for you.”
3. Take Responsibility.
“This is my decision. I respect you as an associate, and I needed to make this decision.”
4. Don’t be stupid
You don’t want to be like that dentist who told his hygienist that she was fired because she was too irresistible: How much has that lawsuit cost?
5. Provide support.
Try to do more than the minimum severance package. Now is the time to be generous.
6. Do not, under any circumstances, get defensive or hostile.
When we feel bad, this is a natural tendency. That is why planning in advance, and role play is so important.
And when it is over, take a deep breath, relax and write a letter to yourself with lessons learned. What did you do wrong? How can you avoid the same mistake in the future? What do you need to do differently? Accept that this was a failure and learn from it. Read “Failing Forward” by John Maxwell, an all-time favorite of mine.
Finally, if it is impossible for you to do this, get help. Hire a consultant to help you deal with it. If the consultant reviews the situation and agrees that this employee needs to go, then he or she can assist you in finding the way.
Think about the alternative: another year, another 5 years of dealing with this employee, your energy on this instead of devoted to growing your business. Resolve to deal with it and go forward!