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“Values and culture – it doesn’t matter what your company’s is but that you have them and are willing to hire and fire based on people being engaged and exhibiting them and not just on their job performance.”
– Tony Heish – CEO, Zappos 

Last week we talked about letting people go and how that subtraction will actually produce a multiple effect on your profits and your business. This week I want to cover how to do it. Once you have identified the people that need to be set free, you can do that with dignity and without guilt.

How do you identify the C Players, coach them and offer the help they need to learn and get better, more engaged with the team and company? This probably will not happen as C Players have attitude problems and while you can train skill, it is hard to train attitude. However, you need to give them that chance, eliminate any guilt you may have and document why they need to go in a transparent manner.

Weekly Coaching Conversations using a coaching scorecard is the key to accomplishing all of this. These are 10-15 minute conversations you have with your employees on a weekly basis . (If you have more than 6 people then conduct them with your direct reports and train them to do it with the with direct reports.)

At the beginning of each quarter you sit down with the employee. You get agreement on three sections of the score card. Their goals for the quarter, what they want to learn and get better at, and a rock or two (a little project supporting a team working on a company Rock and/or one on their own). At the bottom of the scorecard is a list of your Company’s Core Values.

You meet weekly for 10-15 minutes and update the scorecard together. Red is placed in the squares if no progress is being made, and green if there has been. For the Core Values at the bottom, have them explain one or two, what they mean and provide you examples of where they have seen it exhibited lately in the company.

People change behaviors when they receive positive feedback doing the things you have agreed on, so this tool provides that positive feedback where warranted. However, if there are reds week after week and you ask how can I help and they continue to be red, guess what? Now they know and you know that this is not working. For the first time they are being held accountable and they are not responding. They are exhibiting the characteristics of a C Player – they may hit their goals, but have red in the next two sections and cannot tell you where they have seen the values exhibited during the week. They are not engaged and don’t want to learn to get better.

(In my Online Vault/Library you will find videos, training and tools to start coaching your team (sign up with subscribe button below) and no more reviews that everyone hates to do. )

Other symptoms of C Players:

  • Oppositional – always disagree, augmentative
  • They can’t keep pace – don’t have the mental horsepower, energy, sense of urgency or skills
  • Drama king/queen – everything is about them and everything is about what is being done to them
  • Not accountable – expert at excuses and cover their tracks but doesn’t deliver
  • Focused on their status – me, me, me get ahead at any cost
  • Entitlement Attitude – often top performer but feel entitled to special rights and privileges
  • Clueless – Lack of awareness of their lack of contribution
  • Uncooperative – tough to work with and not open to coaching and feedback
  • Lack of integrity – word is no good
  • Arrogance – god’s gift to company, treat others as less important, don’t listen know it all
  • Not adaptable – the company is changing and they are not keeping up, the team is increasingly having to work around them.

Now you are at the point where it is obvious to them and you that they are not trying to get better, they are not engaged and you have offered lots of help to them. Believe me they are not looking forward to coming to work, they are not happy, they are doing it for the check, and trying to hang on. Many will start looking for a new job on their own. But if they don’t…

How to Let People Go

Important: In the next post we will discuss recruiting and building a Virtual Bench. You have to have that bench in place so you can go after the A Players you have vetted and want to come to work for you. They have a job now so they are on the bench. You have recruited them but not hired them.

Assuming you have the bench in place for the position you need to Topgrade here are some thoughts on how to let go of your C player and set them free without surprises and guilt.

The following are the type of situations you will most likely experience.

Remember you have developed and got agreement on a Weekly Coaching Score Card with this individual. You have met weekly and updated the scorecard and there is a consistent pattern of not progressing, in other words a lot of reds even with your constant offer to help.

Not as Advertised – great interviewer but not living up to the billing.

  • Why we don’t take action? May feel guilty we haven’t trained them enough. Now we have the scorecard and they have not tried to learn – our guilt is gone.
  • What to do? Set them free based on the coaching conversations – it should be no surprise.

Right person, wrong role – may have the aptitude and attitude but not the fit for their current role.

  • Find them a role if you have it in another place in your company. If not set them free, help them find that perfect role in another company (customer, vendor, etc.)

Warm body who has stopped growing

  • Why we don’t take action? They started out like a house a fire, but are not willing to learn and get better and keep up with the company. They are stagnant and not willing to change and grow.
  • What to do? Based again on the Coaching and scorecard they will get the message. Offer them a small severance package to help them make the transition. You will be surprised, as many times they have been looking at your coaching sessions and their seeing the writing on the wall. They are being held accountable for the first time and they don’t like it.

High Performers – usually sales people with bad habits and teamwork skills.

This one is hard – these people are high performers, may be sales people and they are independent and in some cases have leverage over you. You cannot ever get yourself in this position again.

  • Why we don’t let them go? We think the bottom line will suffer, they have relationships with customers.
  • What to do? 9 times out of 10, sales people don’t get customers to move with them. People buy initially because of the sales person but over time the loyalty is because the company is delivering on its promises. (Begin today to reach out to the customers and ensure they have other contacts in your business). You have coached them and used the scorecard and they have not responded then – actually resented it. Many times this person will leave on their own. Thank them for their production. Be willing to offer a letter of reference, even talk to future employers on their behalf. Sales people don’t have a problem getting a new job and most will have been looking as you coached them and used the scorecard.

High performers – value system in conflict with yours.

  • Why don’t we let them go? Usually this is someone in a leadership/management position. They are a key part of the team, been there for a long time, and worked their way up.
  • What to do? Be careful, but the scorecard and coaching should be really helpful in communicating this person is not on board with where we are going. They may be looking for a new job already but offering them a severance package might be in the cards. It will help soothe their egos and make the firing more palatable for you in the long run.

Legacy employees

They have been there a long time, feel like family in many ways. We feel a responsibility for them in many ways. They were once an A Player but now they aren’t keeping up and, more importantly, via the Coaching and scorecard are not willing to learn and get better and stay up to speed. We are working around them and they know it now. For the first time in years the coaching is holding them accountable and they resist it and pine for the “good old days”.

  • Why we don’t let them go? Simple, we feel responsible. You cannot be responsible for other people’s decisions. They have to be responsible. We fear they will be out on the streets, lose their home, etc. It won’t happen – people end up in a better place. They can’t like working here anymore after the coaching and they know they are not keeping up.
  • What to do? give them notice – give them 1 or 2 months to find a job. Don’t tell anyone and offer to help them, look at their resume, provide references, give them time off to interview, etc. At the end of two months let them go. But no extensions to the date you told them.

Another strategy for letting people go:

Offer to long time employees or management level employees the option to resign with dignity. Have them write a letter and then let them have two weeks to wrap things up.

TIPS on Getting Prepared

  1. Get advice and consult an employment attorney (your coaching scorecard is excellent documentation)
  2. Prepare paperwork
  3. Take security precautions – passwords, keys, cards, etc.
  4. Make a plan for how the person’s work will be handled

The Conversation

This is the part we dread the most. Remember it is never as bad as you fear it will be.

  1. When – end of day or before work – so person can clean out their desk and office without seeing coworkers.
  2. Where? Somewhere private of course.
  3. Be brief – communicate the purpose of the conversation in first 30 seconds. Keep it short factual and to the point. “I’ve made a decision and unfortunately today is your last day. This should come as no surprise to you. We have discussed this weekly over the last 6 weeks and it is obvious this is not working out.” Be clear the decision is non negotiable.
  4. Total conversation should not exceed 15 minutes no more.

Go through specifics. Explain what happens next – keys, personal things, paperwork, etc.

Escort them to their workspace to pack personal things and to their car.

Wrap up loose ends

  1. Communicate – Send email or meet in person with your team notifying them of the change and wishing the person well. Open the door to anyone that wants to discuss things. (You will probably be shocked at the number of people who “thank you” or at least say they understand and reinforce the move.) In almost all cases, this announcement will be a morale booster, not a morale problem. The A players in your company knew long before you were willing to accept it that this person was a wrong fit. I’ve seen small companies actually “feel like a weight was lifted” the next day as the wrong fit player was not around.
  2. Reassure – This is probably not needed, but maybe reassure employees that this is not the prelude to wholesale downsizing, i.e., the company is sound.
  3. Distribute the work – You may find you don’t need to replace this person. A Players can do 2X what a C Player can do – the ultimate goal is to have A players in every position, pay more, but have less but better people in place. You do the math. But if you are replacing the person you should have gone to your bench and found the A Player to replace this C Player – productivity will increase dramatically.

Multiplication by Subtraction by Shannon Waller is a great book – please pick it up – but more importantly take action on what you learn. 2 hours a week on recruiting, coaching and Topgrading will do more for you, your company and your bottom line than any two hours I know of. Build a Better Team and you will have More Time, More Money as a result.