I’m in a really bad predicament.

Dear Nicole,

I’m in a really bad predicament. I was hired as the ED for my organization almost a year ago. Right away I had concerns about the program director. He doesn’t act like a director. He is not an analytical thinker and his work quality is not good – reports with many mistakes. My concern is that he is well liked in the organization and as the new ED, I don’t want to appear hasty in making this decision. Is there any way to fix this without firing him?

Haste Makes Waste

My Quick Read: You are second guessing yourself. Chances are your courage to address this situation will not grow as time passes by. To boost your assurance that the world won’t come to an end after you let him go, start preparing yourself for the aftermath now. The employees who really care about the organization will understand the decision and stand by it. Either way is fine as being a leader is not a popularity contest. Being respected is more sustainable than being liked.

Dear Haste Makes Waste,

In your case, that phrase expired about six months ago. Six months was more than enough time for you to get a read on this situation.

I will assume that you have done your due diligence (i.e. followed your policy and procedures for proper documentation and progressive corrective action or been advised by HR/Legal Counsel). If not, I’m available for consultation.

How you handle the aftermath is what distinguishes you as a great leader:

  • Realize that letting an incompetent employee go doesn’t hurt employee morale nearly as much as keeping them around. Everyone bears the pain of that choice.
  • Be transparent about the decision (without violating the person’s right to privacy) and don’t apologize for doing what is in the best interest of the organization. One person’s interest is not bigger than organization’s.
  • Pull together the immediate team members right after the termination to do some damage control. Use that as an opportunity to respond to their concerns about the continuity of work and to share how they are impacted. It is fine to give them the space to share how they are feeling, but don’t feel the need to justify the decision or to change how they are feeling.
  • Demonstrate empathy for him. Understand what is like to be in his shoes and ask yourself, “regardless of how we got here, how would I want to be treated?”
  • If you don’t have a formal reference policy, ensure that all reference calls go to you or HR.
  • The process of letting someone go can feel very personal, but don’t make it personal. Remember, you were acting in the best interest of your organization, but don’t go on a mission to keep the person from ever working in this town again. Being truthful about the person’s track record is not a license to bad mouth the person.

Happy Leading,

“You must learn a new way to think before you can master a new way to be.” –Marianne Williamson