It was time to let someone go, but I gave the person yet another chance. Truly, I expected that my other employees were thinking, “Rob is so patient with this guy; he’s giving the guy every opportunity to improve. Wow, what a good boss; Rob must care so much for the guy.” I was wrong. They were really thinking, “Rob’s a wuss; he doesn’t have the guts to make the tough call.”
You see, it was easier for me to continue working with someone toxic than it was for me to face the uncomfortable backlash of letting the person go. So, I kept him around even though everyone could see the damaging effects of my “non-decision.”
Learn from my mistakes. Twenty years ago a brilliant leader took me aside and said, “Rob, ultimately you have three types of employees and you treat them each differently:
“You have Super Stars, Work Horses, and Dead Wood.
Shine the Stars,
Feed the Work Horses, and
Burn the Dead Wood . . .
and the heat from the fire should warm the other two.”
Your superstar employees are the go-getters who want to be rewarded for their extra efforts. Figure out a way to make that happen. Give these overachievers a bonus, or additional time off, or an extra conference—figure out how to reward them. Recognition of their excellence is very meaningful to them. You can make it happen.
Your workhorses are the backbone of the organization. They show up and do really solid work every day. They love their team at work, they work hard, and they are super loyal. Feed your workhorses! Keep them happy by investing the resources to maintain their work environment. Ask them what you can do to ensure they are happy and have what they need. Listen to them. They won’t ask for anything extraordinary; give them what they want when you can. (A great workhorse once asked me for “plenty of work and a fast computer.”)
Burn the dead wood. If you have employees that are not motivated and refuse to bring their best to work, that’s your fault. Why? Because as a leader, you get what you create or what you allow to continue. If you have a positive work environment and a negative employee continues to complain and make excuses . . . it’s time to make a move.
But I didn’t do it. You read my story above. I could “justify” my decision by convincing myself that “he just needs more time” or “I’ll give him one more chance.” When others would talk to me, I’d come up with an excuse for not releasing the worker. Burn the dead wood. Your other employees will immediately know that you care enough about them and your company to make the tough call. The heat of the fire will warm the other two! They will know that you take your job seriously and they will respect you for it.
BOTTOM LINE: If you need to make a tough call, do it! If not, spend your time shining your stars and feeding your workhorses. That’s the fun part of the job.
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