Early on in my career, I was on a lean digital team where I was hired to lead all functional and marketing efforts for our consumer website. We had momentum and a lot of big ideas aimed at solving our customer’s challenges. Our brand was rising quickly in popularity, so we were driving toward fast changes that made a big impact. The one problem was, we had a weak link. Bob.
Bob was a critical member of our team who had been there since the company was in its early stages and he wasn’t moving with the times. He missed nearly every deadline, didn’t show up for meetings and called in sick multiple times a week. And worse—he was our technology lead, so we were at a loss to make much happen without him.
I felt stuck in my role. I couldn’t make any progress without the technical support of this one person. I, along with others on the team, made the case umpteen times for his removal, but our leader—so strong in so many ways—did not want to take this on.
He hoped Bob would improve.
He assumed at some point Bob would leave on his own.
He asked everyone else on the team to pick up where Bob left off.
In my work coaching and training employees on personal and professional leadership skills, I find many managers and organizations have this same blind spot that my leader did way back when. They leave the poor performer to continue performing poorly and the rest of the team to learn how to live with it.
Often managers leave the employee in place under the guise of being nice, kind or compassionate. As shared by LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner in a recent Oprah Super Soul Conversation (that is a must-listen!), the compassionate thing to do is to help that employee move on to a role where he or she would be a better fit. Leaving Bob in a role where he is failing is not good for anyone—especially Bob!
In my experience, it’s this skill—knowing when an employee needs to transition and acting swiftly and generously in making it happen—that separates the good leaders from the great ones. It’s understanding how one person can impact an entire team or organization. When one person is acting out or not meeting expectations, it robs the rest of the team of the clarity and safety that helps them function as a unit. It leaves them in a crisis-mode that minimizes their efforts daily.
There are clearly steps to take prior to making such a transition.
Providing feedback on how Bob can improve while creating a plan together to help make that happen
Setting clear expectations again on the breadth of requirements of the role.
Opening the lines of communication on where Bob’s strengths may match up better to a role within or outside of the organization.
And then, if you have moved through all of the steps to get Bob up to speed and he still can’t do the job he’s being asked to do, it takes both courage and compassion to support Bob in a transition toward something new. As a leader, this is a hard conversation, but if you approach it with your core values in mind, knowing the person you want to be in that moment—though uncomfortable—you will know it is the right thing for all involved.