Fear often holds hostage those who must initiate personnel changes. I see it in client organizations of all types and I see it triggered by individuals at all levels of the organization. Typical hostages include board members who know they need new leadership, CEOs with ineffective executive team members, and supervisors suffering from inadequate performance of a direct report.
- They fear the conversation with the individual.
- They fear upsetting colleagues loyal to the individual.
- They fear losing an otherwise good employee.
- They fear that they haven’t set clear expectations or provided adequate feedback and support.
- They fear appearing heartless and hurting a bread winner and his family.
- They fear being unfair because the demands of the organization have changed, not the employee.
- They fear embarrassing the individual or creating awkward inter-personal dynamics.
- They fear making others fearful.
- They fear public or political repercussions if the individual has significant visibility outside the organization.
- They fear lawsuits and unions.
How many of these have you felt?
And, of course, these fears are exacerbated by the need to respect the individual’s privacy, which makes it impossible to fully and openly explain the reasoning behind the change.
The result is paralysis. At a lunch just this week, a director on one of those paralyzed Boards told me an all too common story. His Board was finally taking action after waiting two years. Two years too long. Two painful years of watching the organization slide deeper and deeper into a hole under inadequate leadership.
Waiting too long is not just a problem for replacing CEOs. Ask any employee what it is like to work with or near someone who is under-performing. They will quickly point out many times when they have suffered everything from whining to working extra hours to pick up the slack caused by employees who have been known problems for far too long.
It doesn’t have to be this way! Here are five steps to end that paralysis:
1. Everyone can be effective if in the right job.
If you have an employee who isn’t cutting it, you have him in the wrong job. What matters is the match between employee and job requirements. Ensuring a strong match is as much your responsibility as it is an employee’s. When the fit is solid, employees are confident, energetic, determined, capable, and successful.
2. Keeping someone in a position where they can’t succeed does no one any favors.
Not the individual. Not the co-workers. Not the organization. Not yourself.
3. Strong leaders are honestly and sincerely interested in helping their employees succeed.
Tell the employee where he has been adding value and where he has fallen short. Stick to the facts, both positive and concerns. Focus on observed behavior – actions witnessed – and the impact of that behavior.
Presumably you have already done this many times. I mention it here for two reasons. First, if you haven’t had this discussion several times already, get started now. You may find that expectations haven’t been clear and your employee actually may be ready and able to improve.
Second, if you have had this conversation several times, now is the time to draw the conclusion the employee should already be expecting. “It isn’t working. It is time to find an alternative.”
4. Partners are on the same side and solve problems together.
Problem solving mode should always follow feedback. If you’ve revealed room for improvement, work together to figure out what will lead to greater success. If you’ve provided praise, work together to help the employee achieve even greater impact.
Once you’ve recognized that a position change is in order, the problem solving may come in slightly different flavors depending on the situation.
- Do you want the employee to assume a different position in the organization? If so, help him see why this is in his best interests, as well as those of the company.
- If you need the employee to help you create a new position, work together to itemize his strengths and interests. Itemize the needs of the organization separately, with his help if appropriate. Then explore the options for matching needs with capabilities.
- If you want the employee to leave, help him see the long term advantages, if not the short term advantages as well, depending on how stressful his situation has been. Help him see his strengths and passions. Be sure he knows that the issue is the match between the job position and his capabilities and interests, not the quality of his character or his potential as a human being. Offer whatever career support you or your organization can deliver. Provide time off to go to interviews. In short, help the employee find success elsewhere.
5. You can’t avoid discord. And if you try, you will be paralyzed by fear.
Despite your best efforts, there is always the possibility that someone will be upset. The most likely scenario is when you help someone out the door before they have found a new job. That will happen. I have seen the tears and the pain. I have also seen those same people a few months later when they tell me how much happier they are without the stress and pressure they felt in the old job. Both employer and employee often wish the exact same thing. They wish they’d made the change sooner.
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com on July 24th, 2016.