The Dread of Performance Reviews & Terminations
Nov 21, 2018
I used to hate doing performance reviews, and I especially hated firing people. I would lose sleep thinking about the meeting, and the conversation, and mostly the reactions of the other person. I would doubt myself, I would re-think everything, and I would worry about all of the effects of the conversation and my decisions.
But then I had to fire someone who, I had no doubt, really did not need to continue in his job with me. He wasn't qualified and wasn't trying to be. His attitude was one of entitlement and laziness. He talked a big talk but had no follow-through. And he did not, at all, understand the mission and goals of the business or his job. I still went through the same processes in my head the night before, but in the midst of all that I realized, "I think he's going to be relieved," and this changed the way I looked at terminations, performance reviews, and my management of people in general.
I had worked with this guy and put in all of my managerial and leadership efforts with him. I had talks with him where we discussed his strengths, weaknesses, likes & dislikes, and tried to morph his role into being a good fit for him. No matter what I did, he wasn't fitting. And the more time that went on, and my expectations of him stayed clear, and his inability to meet those did the same, I think he started to feel overwhelmed and under-prepared, and unhappy. But quitting meant having to figure out what to do instead, and so he didn't quit.
By the time I called him in to talk with me, I felt confident and ready to tell him what was happening and why. So I explained, "You have been here 2 years, and you have gone through many exercises to help you understand your role and what is required of you, yes?" He agreed. I continued, "Your skills and experience are ___, ___ and ___, from what I've learned of you, would you agree?" and I listed his strengths and skills for him. He agreed, and so I continued, "This role requires ___ and ___ but your skills are ___ and ___ -- and those don't align at all, and so I feel like you really want to use the skills you have, but they just aren't fitting with the expectations of this particular job." He agreed again. I asked him if he had been feeling overwhelmed by not being able to meet the expectations, and he said he had. I explained to him (again) the standards of our work environment, the needs for our team, and the way the person in a role should fit the expectations of a role. He then agreed that he did not fit that at all, that he liked a more relaxed and slow-paced environment, that he didn't like or understand some of the tasks and responsibilities he had, and that he really didn't enjoy coming to work every day because he felt he was going to be overwhelmed.
We talked a little more about how he needs to find a role that better suits him, and his skills and preferences, and that I imagined he would be a much better employee in a more suitable role. I told him I was not going to keep him in this position, and that I really did wish the best for him in finding a role somewhere that made him happy and fulfilled. He thanked me .. for helping him see why he had felt overwhelmed and unhappy. He shook my hand as he left, and said.. "I actually feel a little excited about finding what's out there for me now." I had essentially given him permission to admit this wasn't working and that he needed to move on, but helped him to see it from his perspective rather than just the company's or mine.
This same method applies to performance reviews. If you are dreading telling someone they haven't been doing as well as they should in a particular area, or many areas, you are giving them permission to keep failing. You are not allowing yourself to hold your employees to a standard, because you're relaxing that standard at the very time when you should be enforcing it. Performance reviews should also be less about the review of the past time period, and more about setting goals for going forward. You should be communicating with your employees often enough that a performance review is merely a summary of past discussions, and not breaking news of poor performance all year long. It shouldn't be a punishment, and it shouldn't be a control tactic. In a performance review you should be discussing the past time period (6 months, year, etc.) and what has and has not worked, what successes and failures have happened, what goals have been reached and which have not. This should be easy and straightforward because you should have previously set clear goals as the guidelines for comparison. And then, you use what you've discussed in the review and you set new goals -- new guidelines and a structure to use for the upcoming time period. If an employee's efforts have been sub-par, don't tell them they've been doing fine. They won't know to change anything, and they'll continue doing what they've been doing. If you were only doing 70% as well as your supervisor wanted you to, wouldn't you want to be told, and also told how to make up the remaining 30%, in clearly defined ways and a team effort? If one of my employees isn't doing as well as they should in an area, I'm going to sit with them and find out why, and then discuss possible options for training, practice, explanation, mentoring, or anything else that would help them succeed fully in their job.
If you don't set goals for an employee to work toward, like job improvement, then you can't hold them as responsible when they don't improve. You've told them they are meeting expectations, and so they think that they are. If you've told an employee they aren't meeting expectations, then tell them very clearly why, and how you think they could. Help them get there... that's your job as a leader.
I love performance reviews now, and I have grown comfortable with using terminations as growing and learning experiences for employees as they move forward into different roles. As part of my business (www.AcademyHour.com) I also conduct terminations on behalf of others, and I provide a mediated performance review service, where I will work through performance review processes with managers. Additionally, I conduct employee disciplinary training sessions, one-on-one, to supplement a manager's existing progressive discipline process. I love all of this because it's a way to help people grow, and to learn their strengths and weaknesses and move toward tasks and roles that are best suited for them.
How can you turn your performance review, disciplinary, and termination sessions into growth experiences for others? It's your responsibility as a leader.