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22 Dec '10

Difficult but Necessary Decisions

Posted by T.J. Addington in firing, organizational alignment
Perhaps the most difficult decisions that leaders make are those of personnel, both hiring and letting staff go. While some leaders are way too quick to pull the plug on situations that are not working, most of us wait way too long to take action when we need too, prolonging our pain, the pain of others and compromising the mission of the organization.

Our reasons for not addressing situations where the fit is not right, where there is not missional and philosophical alignment or where the job has outgrown the staff member are many. It can be conflict avoidance, hoping against hope that things will "work out," grace, or just fear of facing the pain of letting someone go. Usually, however, our "gut" has already told us that it will not work and since prior performance is the best predictor of future behavior, we have the knowledge we need - just not the resolve to solve the problem. I have been there like many of you.

There are three issues that we must consider when we face this kind of situation. First, if the fit is not right with the rest of the team, that lack of fit or alignment is like an anchor around the whole team, pulling it down and keeping it from moving forward. In other words, lack of fit hurts the team or organization as a whole and compromises its ability to move forward in health and vitality.

Second, where the issue is competence, the lack of competence of an individual to play at the level they need to play at hurts the reputation and perception of the organization. In one ministry that I consulted with, a program was started that had promise and made promises. Unfortunately, the individual running that program could never deliver on the promise and nearly everyone who used the program came away disillusioned. The program is still running in spite of the fact that every disillusioned customer hurts the reputation of the ministry as a whole. They would have been better off to cut their losses either by moving the staff member on, or shutting down a program which over promised and under delivered for more than a decade. I have made this mistake at times as well.

Thirdly, and this may be the hardest for us to accept is that when there is a lack of fit or the needs of the job have outgrown the competence of someone to fulfill it, we actually do a disservice to those who are involved by keeping them in that slot. Even when they do not understand that they are in the wrong spot (many who are don't), whenever someone is not in the right "lane" they will not be fulfilled and fruitful - two things we should want for every staff member.

How should we handle such situations? The one thing we should not do is to ignore the obvious or what we know in our "gut." Facing reality that the fit is not right or the competency is not present is one of the jobs of leaders - not a pleasant one but an important one. Not dealing with what they know to be true has a negative impact on the mission and organization they lead.

We all know that letting someone go must be done wisely, at the right time and in a defensible way. When a staff member does not have much of a constituency it is far easier. When they do, even though the fit is not right or competency not present it is more complicated and plan that takes into account unintended consequences becomes critical. What we cannot do as leaders is to do nothing because in that scenario we have neglected one of our key duties as a leader which is to ensure that the organization stays healthy and that barriers to our mission fulfillment are removed. At that point the issue is not if but how!