Keeping Valued Employees: Why Terminate When You Can Turnaround
When the once-successful, top-flight executive loses momentum and no longer performs to potential, the questions to be asked are "Why?" and "What now?" As the once-effective manager begins to flounder or derail, these very same questions must be considered.

Statistics show that a full third of senior executives ultimately fail. Often the unseen causes stem from psychological blind spots, areas of weakness that others can see all too clearly. Chances are good that you've got folks like this in your organization. Who doesn't know people with one or more of the following difficulties?

  1. He lacks effective people skills - he's too abrasive with others - or he is isolated, unavailable. Perhaps his reactions are unpredictable, leaving others wary of interacting with him.

  2. He lacks managerial finesse - he micromanages his team - he fails to delegate responsibility where appropriate.

  3. He lacks follow-through - he fails to keep his promises - he leaves his people hanging.

  4. He doesn't communicate effectively with others in the organization.
What can be done with this type of valued but underperforming employee? Should he be dismissed from the organization? Replaced, perhaps, with someone who exhibits more enthusiasm for the job? Well... not necessarily. In fact, the costs associated with termination of a key employee can be immense. They include, but are not limited to, the following: exit costs; recruiting, hiring, and restart costs; lost training and development costs; opportunity costs; disruption, down time, lowered morale of the team, even disputed termination litigation.

Doesn't it make more sense to help the underperforming employee turn around his behavior - by addressing those troublesome blind spots and working toward greater effectiveness? Why not motivate and empower the individual to make meaningful and lasting changes to his self-defeating patterns of behavior? Most folks are eager to succeed and open to receiving help in enhancing job performance.

So, what does it take to turn things around? The details vary, of course, from individual to individual, but the basic process can be applied to most. First, there must be a means of assessing the what's and why's of the problem behaviors. This means gaining insight into the way this person approaches his work, interacts with others, manages his team, and communicates with his peers, supervisors, and direct reports. Data should be gathered directly from the individual, from those all around him, and through the administration of appropriate, business-normed psychological evaluations. Past performance data should also be reviewed. Of course, due to the sensitive nature of this exploration, it's important to leave it to an expert, ideally someone external to the organization. Attempts to do it any other way can lead to mistrust, inappropriate interpretation and use of the data, and limited impact on the individual's behavior.

Once a clear picture emerges of what the individual is doing right and wrong, as well as why he's operating this way, it's time for action. The individual must be given the opportunity to set new goals, try new ways of interacting, and discover how much more effective he can be. Some changes will work and some won't. That's okay. The idea is to allow the individual to continue to make improvements, to assess and reassess over the course of time, and make refinements where needed. Efforts at improvement must be encouraged and recognized on an ongoing basis. This encouragement can come from a boss, a peer, even a spouse... as long as there are people who know what's happening and are invested in supporting the individual and providing honest feedback along the way.

The change process isn't easy. And there's no quick fix. People can, however, change. Given the proper tools and motivation, most people do change. So... why terminate when you can turnaround?