Good thing: Many U.S. companies are reinventing themselves, preparing for success in a ever-accelerating business climate. Bad thing: Some of your employees just aren’t going to be able to keep up.
Pat Wadors, senior VP of global talent organization at LinkedIn, recently explained employers’ dilemma in a post on the Harvard Business Review blog: “In order to grow, they may have to part ways with collegial, talented employees who just aren’t the right fit anymore.”
And no, we’re not talking about older employees — indeed, your veteran workers are likely keepers simply because of their institutional memory. And handling change is a matter of combining brains, ambition and maturity, not chronology.
How can your managers handle what’s bound to be a tricky transition for everybody? Here’s a sampling of Wador’s suggestions.
- Don’t wait until the end to say what’s been working and what hasn’t. Although most struggling employees will have a sense they’re not doing as well as they could be, it’s still important for managers to provide continuous feedback. Says Wador: “When you have criticism, start by thanking people for their work and contributions, and highlighting what you do like. That makes it easier for them to absorb what you’re saying and to ask probing questions when you point to areas for further development. And ask them questions: Do they see the gaps that you see? What are they experiencing?”
If they continue to struggle, ask them to talk about how they think they’ve been doing. Often, that’ll help people open up about their frustrations and fears. “Seek to understand how people have evolved in their roles and what gets them motivated,” writes Wadors. “It may be that you haven’t tapped their full potential yet because you haven’t provided the right kind of support or meaningful incentives.”
- Make it as informal as possible. Getting called into the manager’s office brings back memories of being called before the school principal. If managers can talk things over in a neutral setting — like on a walk outside, for instance — it’s a lot easier for workers to relax and be themselves.
- Plan a graceful exit. If the decision’s finally made — the employee just isn’t the right person for the long term — set the wheels in motion for a smooth departure.
Many employers find the Performance Improvement Plan a handy tool in this kind of situation: It lays out specific areas that need improvement, provides benchmarks for measuring improvement, and sets up a strict time frame — usually 60 or 90 days. If performance improves, the employee stays. If not …
Wadors suggests that managers “help people focus on the future. Talk about what works for them. What are their strengths? Where do they get their joy? Help them be more self-aware while not crushing their confidence.
“Encourage them look outside themselves, too — they’ll need to scan the horizon for their next gig.
“In what kinds of organizations are they likely to do their best work? Where will they be happiest? Ask these sorts of questions as prompts, and provide guidance where you can.”
- Allow them to make a dignified departure. After all, these are people who’ve been good and loyal workers for the company. And if you can help them with outplacement services, by all means do so. “Anything [managers] can do to help them land on their feet will further increase the team’s trust in you as a leader and enhance the company’s overall talent brand,” says Wadors.
- Finally, don’t forget the survivors. People get nervous when their co-workers are fired. It’s a natural reaction. Managers should be as clear as possible — without badmouthing the departed employee, of course — about the reasons for the termination, and “spell out what success looks like going forward so people don’t have to guess,” Wadors says.