Train Them Up or Let Them Go? Changing Perspectives to Build Talent Within Your Organization


Let’s talk about perspective for a minute. Your life experiences shape your perspective. And your perspective is what shapes your opinions and beliefs. Then, you make decisions based on what your perceived reality is. There are plenty of ways that we could address how our perceptions are impacting the way we interact with each other on topics like COVID, racism and politics, but let’s focus today on how our perceptions impact an important area of leadership—raising up talent within your organization.

Life is easy as a leader when you have talented individuals on your team and everyone works smoothly together. But if you’ve been leading for any length of time, you’ve probably realized the times that feel like that are few and far between. Groups need leaders. It’s as simple as that.

As the leader, it’s your job to make sure that everyone is in the right place, working on the right things, and that they have the resources that they need to make it happen. Sometimes this goes well. And sometimes it becomes apparent that there is a problem.

The “underperforming” employee

Sometimes as a leader, you’re going to discover that you have a problem with an employee. Even though the individual seemed perfect on paper for the position that they’re in, they under-perform.

It’s easy as a leader to jump to the conclusion that the employee just isn’t going to be a good fit in the position. They’re not delivering the results that you expected. They may seem like they waste time on tasks that don’t matter while neglecting the ones that need their attention. You may even notice that they seem to put in long hours at work, yet they aren’t making any progress.

The easy decision is to let them go, cut your losses, and move on to start looking for the next person to fill the vacant position. That’s what you’re supposed to do as a leader when you have a problem employee, right?

It’s a trick question.

Yes, there are times when as a leader, you have to make the tough call. There are times when you need to be able to do one of the tasks that most managers enjoy the least—let an employee go. But that’s not always the case.

Try changing your perspective

What if your employee is underperforming because they have skills that need to be developed still? What if they’re underperforming because they are new to the organization and the position and are struggling with the learning curve? Or, what if the training process in your organization is lacking and the real problem is with your system and not the employee?

Before you rush into making a decision, it may be time to challenge your perspective.

If you take the time to try seeing things from a different perspective, you may realize that a little guiding and training may be the right move instead of firing what will be a good employee.

So, how do you gain new perspective?

1. Evaluate the data

Don’t allow your emotions to make the decision for you. You may feel frustrated that you’re not seeing the results you were expecting. If you’re mid-management, you may feel pressure from above and want to take action quickly to address the problem. But if you allow these emotions and feelings to dictate your action, you may make a decision that you regret.

Take time to look at the numbers. Analyze the data. See if you can identify where the problem is coming from.

Sometimes when you take the time to quiet your emotions and analyze the data, you may spot where the real problem lies. Then, you can work on creating a plan with your underperforming employee to address it and move forward.

2. Get the opinion of someone outside of your organization

You may be too close to the problem to identify what’s causing it. Instead of allowing yourself to rush into making a quick decision, look for guidance from someone that can see the bigger picture.

Involve the HR leader in your organization in the discussion. Talk to another manager in the business to get their perspective. You may also benefit from talking to a mentor or business coach to get a different perspective from someone outside of the organization.

But remember that there is a difference between simply talking about a problem employee and actually seeking guidance and perspective to make an educated decision on how to move forward.

3. Ask questions

Before making the decision to let go of an underperforming employee, talk to them. Let them know what you’re seeing, or not seeing that you want to see.

Ask them questions. Find out what the situation looks like from their perspective. This can help you see if there is something that you’re missing. It could be as simple as needing to provide clearer instructions or provide additional resources.

Take action early

It used to be normal for employers to do a 30-day review for new employees and then move to an annual evaluation. But this should no longer be the standard at organizations. Doing this can allow problems to continue for far too long, which makes them harder to address when you find them.

If you have an underperforming employee, the best thing you can do is catch it quickly. This allows you to reevaluate the situation to see what the best options are. You’ve already invested company resources—time and money—into hiring and training this individual. Rushing to fire them can be a waste of those resources.

Instead, get to what the root cause of the problem is. If the employee needs additional training, train them. If they need additional resources, see what can be done to address the situation. Help create a plan to get this employee on the road to success.

However, there may be times when it really is just that the employee isn’t the right fit for the position. In this case, explore if there is a different position that they would be ideal for. There was something in this employee that caused them to be hired by the organization. Look for ways to set this employee and the company up for success.

If after exploring these options you discover the best option is to move on by letting the employee go, then at least you know that you explored your options and have a clear understanding of where the issue was. This can help you to move forward in a clearer direction with a new hire.

Training and leadership development

If you have a struggling and underperforming employee in your organization, SPEARity can help. Our trained and experienced business coaches in Milwaukee can help with talent development within your organization. And we provide virtual training for organizations outside of the Milwaukee area. Reach out today to explore training and development options.

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