Termination Is Hard, But Avoidance Is Destructive

The following also is my latest column in MediaPost.

Termination Is Hard, But Avoidance Is Destructive

Terminating relationships is hard – especially when it’s an employee. But termination-avoidance is one of the greatest risks that can hold a company back.

I’m not an expert on protocol; there are countless lawyers and human-resources experts for that. However, when it comes to fuzzy situations where employee performance is mediocre or questionable, my sense is that companies wait too long to act. The reality of separating from an employee too often is swept under the rug.

And that’s bad. It ensures those at-risk employees’ functions, teams and overall companies run at subpar levels. It breeds mediocrity and creates bad precedent. It forces others to compensate and poisons morale. It looks bad to outsiders and deflates enterprise value. Failing to terminate promptly is hard, but lingering is downright unhealthy. Situations can become like cancer.

But a company that fails to terminate an employee, when called for, is also doing that at-risk employee a great disservice. It sustains an unhealthy situation and hampers change and growth. It makes the inevitable all the more painful when the inevitable happens. It prevents that employee from being open to more compatible opportunities, where happiness and blossoming are more likely. Termination avoidance can even be disrespectful, because it equates to precious lost time.

So when is the right time to terminate, in such gray situations? Again, I’m not advising on legal grounds. It’s imperative to follow company procedures, be compassionate and try to correct an at-risk employee. But my sense is that a manager’s intuition is more often right than wrong. When intuition dictates, it’s critical to listen closely, initiate serious evaluation, and be prepared to act quickly.

In case you were wondering, this column was inspired by several situations I’ve witnessed over the years. We’ve all seen or been involved in them, and they’re unpleasant to the think about. Discussing them doesn’t make you popular or jolly. But as tough as they are, it’s far better to confront them head-on.

Published by Max Kalehoff

Father, sailor and marketing executive.

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7 Comments

  1. Max:

    Good post – and a topic I have written on as well.

    A company that does not terminate poor performers will always be behind. The worst think about keeping poor performers on the roster is the message it sends to your high performers – that you don't value them.

    So, protect your poor performers at the risk of losing your high performers.

    TO'B

  2. I think this extends beyond performance. That criterion makes a decision more objective and defensible (despite most people being employed at will), but even high performers need to be terminated sometimes.

    I came across the idea of “emotional contagion” earlier this week – people who propagate negative emotional contagion should be terminated sooner rather than later as well.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotional_contagion

  3. Peter,
    Good point. Your team must invest positive karma. Positive and
    solution-oriented. We're very aware of that at my current startup and
    do everything to cultivate it.

  4. Excellent post!

    I think Peter nailed it for me, too. “…unpleasant emotions are more likely to lead to mood contagion than are pleasant emotions.” Get the Nay-Saying, mood-altering, viral individual O*U*T – before the contagion spreads and affects morale with a Group Dynamic force.

    But what if “you” are on the receiving end of the termination? Absolutely be outraged, whine and complain, disrespect your Company? No no no! Simply take it as a Life Lesson Learned. Learn, grow, adjust and become all the more better for it.

    I like how you put it, Max: Never be content to “breed mediocrity. “

  5. Excellent post!

    I think Peter nailed it for me, too. “…unpleasant emotions are more likely to lead to mood contagion than are pleasant emotions.” Get the Nay-Saying, mood-altering, viral individual O*U*T – before the contagion spreads and affects morale with a Group Dynamic force.

    But what if “you” are on the receiving end of the termination? Absolutely be outraged, whine and complain, disrespect your Company? No no no! Simply take it as a Life Lesson Learned. Learn, grow, adjust and become all the more better for it.

    I like how you put it, Max: Never be content to “breed mediocrity. “

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