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At one time or another, every one of us will experience the aggravation of working with someone who should be fired. Often, the people in question are managers or co-workers who are apathetic and unmotivated, or perhaps they erode the culture through gossip or dishonesty.
They complain instead of finding solutions. They refuse to learn and don’t take direction well. They have anger issues. They aren’t team players. They are always part of the problem, and never the solution.
Some of these people are likable at times, and may even have friends at work. But they are poison to a company’s culture; they sink morale and curb results. When new executives or managers arrive, this “people problem” will need to be fixed as soon as possible.
As a leader, sooner or later you will oversee a restructuring. When that occurs, the first people to go are usually the ones described above.
Good leaders will wisely assess the situation and find the courage to take action. But what about those who stay? Here are a few actions you can take to rebuild the team and ensure positive momentum after restructuring:
1. Go back to Leadership 101.
Simple works. Begin by focusing on relationships and building trust. Ensure that everyone on the team understands the mission of the organization, its purpose and objectives, and why these are important. Listen more than you speak. What does this company contribute to the world?
2. Affirm and spend time with the top performers.
The team members who add the most value often don’t have the biggest titles. These are the sometimes “invisible” players who, nonetheless, influence company culture significantly. You’ve just let go of bad performers, so now is the time to determine if others need more visible leadership — or a promotion.
There is no shortcut to spending time with your team. It’s vital to find out what they care about. As a leader, you can ensure a win/win outcome: that team members achieve their aspirations and, at the same time, fulfill the company’s mission.
Give clear and specific feedback about what you value in these top performers. Is it their collaborative approach to problems? Their willingness to help, or to go above and beyond their job description?
Ask how you can better support them, and demonstrate that you value their responses.
3. Communicate often.
Communicate beyond your usual comfort zone. Establish and continue to reaffirm the organization’s vision. Clearly define your expectations. Use a variety of communications that involve some face time — invite them to contact you on Skype or Google Hangouts, if necessary.
4. Ask a lot of questions.
Ask your employees for their ideas on what has worked and what hasn’t in the past. What are the most persistent problems, and what is their opinion on how to solve them? Here is a list 20 questions to give you some ideas.
“The best innovators are learners, not knowers. The same can be said about innovative cultures; they are learning cultures. The leaders who have built these cultures, either through intuition or experience, know that in order to discover, they must eagerly seek out things they don’t understand and jump right into the deep end of the pool. They must fail fearlessly and quickly and then learn and share their lessons with the team.” – G. Michael Maddock and Raphael Louis Vitón
5. Establish regular check-ins.
Make it clear that you welcome questions, opinions, and alternative points of view. Spend time listening to them.
6. Have some fun, soon and often.
Plan team-building activities, or even a simple happy hour, where you can get to know your employees in a casual setting. Spending time with them outside of work is invaluable to demonstrating that their opinions will be heard. Encourage your team to take initiative and make their work fun.
Remember: most, if not all, of your colleagues will be relieved by your decision to fire their underperforming co-workers. They’re smart, and they view this as a mark of good leadership. They may even ask why it took you so long!
Don’t second-guess your firing decisions. Research shows that your earliest impressions are generally accurate. It’s hard to fire people, and it should be! (If it’s too easy, you may need to check yourself.)
It takes courage and clarity to let people go. It can and should be done with grace.
I’ve found that for those who are fired, it can be a turning point in their lives — the wake-up call they need to do a self-assessment on their purpose, strengths and weaknesses. It often compels them to gain clarity on their goals and helps them take responsibility for their self-limiting beliefs and actions. As painful as firing decisions are, these experiences can teach and transform.
As you rebuild your team, here are some additional tips on how to hire well. I love Patrick Lencioni’s ideas on building a great corporate culture. Even if you aren’t a senior executive, you can “lead up” and recommend these action steps whenever people are let go from your organization.