Should You Fire or Coach a Poor Performer?

Posted on November 20, 2013.

I think many managers try to coach poor performers, especially new managers. If you think about it, professional sports may be the only place where one bad season can cost you your job.   In January of this year alone, twelve coaches and general managers were fired and that was just in the NFL. Even crack smoking mayors like Rob Ford seem to keep their job long past their expiration date.

But putting industry dynamics aside, when should you throw in the towel and realize all the coaching in the world won’t work?

·      When basic skills or attributes are missing.  That’s not to say you can’t or won't train someone.  I’m certain you wouldn’t hire an auditor that didn’t have an accounting education of some kind. But would you put them in front of clients if they had zero people skills?  There’re certain qualities that a job may need that some people just don’t have and all the coaching in the world will not transform them into the type of person that will excel in the job. It’s called a bad fit and last time I looked, a square peg still won’t fit in a round hole.

·      When the employee lacks self-awareness.  There’s absolutely no one harder to manage than the person who lacks self-awareness.  When you hear things like, “they don’t pay me enough to manage John Doe”, it’s usually because John is clueless.  When you try to coach someone who has an unrealistic opinion of themselves, they tend to get defensive. Here’s a conversation I actually had more than once:

o   Me:   “Richard, your customers have told me you’re unresponsive and your follow up is lacking”.

o   Richard: “They’re wrong”.

o   Me: “ But that’s what they told me. I can give you a few examples”

o   Richard: “I don’t care, they’re wrong”.

What exactly do you do with that? You certainly can’t coach Richard’s performance.  You need to start the documentation process and hope he leaves before you have to fire him.

·      When 100% effort on your part, yields an 80% return. When you embark on serious performance coaching, most people will quickly show some improvement. It’s when you see the law of diminishing returns you need to give it up. It’s a lot like dieting (something to which I’m an expert).  If I keep cutting calories but stop losing weight, I’m pretty much done.  I’m at the best I can be and that may not be good enough for what you need on your team.  So stop wasting your time and find someone who shows 120% improvement in exchange for your efforts.

One of the hardest things to do as a manager is admit that you failed at coaching.  But it’s better to accept that some people just aren’t coachable and that moving them out is the right thing to do.