Fired getty

Much like the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago, the best time for an executive onboarding into a new role to weed out poor performers is before they start. In both cases, the second choice is now, or as soon as practical.

Who needs to go away? The ones who won’t fit with the desired culture, don’t deliver the desired results, or can’t adjust to the required changes in the business. There are, of course, variations on the themes; but they inevitably tee up to fit, delivery and adjustment.

Tranche 1 – Already known

When do you know? There are some people that everyone already knows should go away. Someone else should move on those people before you start in your new role so it doesn’t look like you moved on people before giving them a chance.

Tranche 2 – Won’t fit

The second tranche would be those who won’t fit with the desired culture. You’ll know who those people are pretty fast. Pay particular attention to those that wanted your job and didn’t get it. Invite them to be part of the new team. Give them your full support. Then, if they don’t come to you within six to eight weeks and proactively tell you they were skeptical at first, but now get it and want in, make them go away at the eight-week mark. If they don’t fit by then, they are never going to fit.

Tranche 3 – Don’t deliver

The third tranche will be those that don’t deliver. This is part of why you put milestones in place – to give you an early read on who does and does not deliver. Some people will miss their first milestones. If they own the misses, feel badly about them, and double-down to make up lost ground, fine. But if they miss agreed milestones because they were working on things “more important,” that’s a good sign of passive-aggressiveness. Make them go away as soon as you see that.

Tranche 4 – Can’t adjust

The last group are those that can’t adjust to required changes in the business. You won’t know who they are until you identify and, in some cases, start to implement those changes. Make them go away as appropriate.

#1 Regret – Not moving fast enough on people

Experienced leaders’ #1 regret is not moving fast enough on people. And, when they finally do move on people, others ask, “What took you so long?” Those people are thinking, “We were beginning to think you were stupid.”

What holds leaders back? In many cases, what holds these leaders back is either the human connection, the sunk cost trap, or risk aversion.

Human connection

On the one hand, terminating someone is always personally painful. They are human beings with families, dependents and friends – some of whom work in the organization. On the other hand, it they don’t fit, won’t deliver or can’t adjust, they know it. The sooner you help them move towards a place and role where they will fit, deliver and adjust, the better for them.

Sunk cost

There’s a real cost to recruiting, hiring and developing someone. Some delay terminating people because they know they’ll have to do that all over again. But that’s a false trade-off. You’re going to have to do it sooner or later. The sooner you do it, the sooner you’ll benefit from the new investment.

Risk aversion

Finally, some fear they may not be able to replace the person they are thinking of terminating with someone better. Indeed, they think they may end up with someone worse. They rationalized delaying with some version of sticking with the devil they know. But they know the person in place is not right.

Implications for you

If you think you’re going to need to terminate someone, you’re going to need to terminate them. The former CEO of VF and farmer, Rob Gregory, had two sayings:

  • Never name an animal you’re going to eat and
  • Never fire anyone until you know who’s going to do their job.

In other words, don’t get too personally close to your new direct reports until you’ve evaluated them and put back-up and contingency plans in place. If someone doesn’t fit the culture you’re building, or is holding others back from delivering, move on them quickly – even if someone has to do their job on an interim basis. In other cases, you can recruit their replacements before sending them on their way.