It is hardly ever easy to identify when the timing is right to let an employee go. I have found that the line is gray and blurred between continuing to invest in a subpar employee and terminating them. For me, I tend to give folks the benefit of the doubt almost to a fault. So, I have held onto employees far longer than I should have.
There are no black and white, steadfast ways to know...but I hope that these four things will get you on a path to identifying when the time is more than likely right for a termination. And, I can honestly say, although terminating an employee never feels good and I always have sympathy for the person losing their jobs - I have never regretting terminating an employee when one of the following four things was true:
1. You've invested in them and their performance doesn't improve.
This one is so vital. I've seen many leaders who interact with a poor performer and they act as though it is 100% up to the employee to change or do something differently. I believe that leadership plays a huge role in the success of a subpar employee. If we do not invest in them, then their chance of failure is greatly increased. But, if we've invested in them and provided the resources, training, and support they need to improve and they still don't show improvement, it's time to let them go.
2. You've followed your disciplinary process to the end and they are still struggling.
Every organization should have a disciplinary process that clearly outlines the path that a supervisor should go down in order to identify and address poor performance. If you don't have this, stop right now and get one in place (talk to HR or the person that handles policies/procedures). These processes are in place to make it clear to both the supervisor and the employee. It will usually include a verbal warning, a written warning, a probationary period, and then termination. If you've followed this procedure to the end and the employee is still weak in their performance, it's probably time to let them go. Otherwise, why have the policy??
3. They've violated a policy that calls for immediate termination.
Now this is the easiest one of the four. However, it isn't always easy. I remember once that I had to let a guy go who was working security in a hotel where I was a manager and we found out that he had been going into the bar and helping himself to a few drinks. We could run a report to show who had accessed the bar since it had an electronic keypad. It was his code and we had him busted red-handed. However, his girlfriend, who also worked there, told me that it wasn't him and that he wasn't there at the time that the report had shown. I still terminated him, but there's still this part in the back of my mind that maybe she was telling the truth. But this particular way of knowing that's it time to let someone go includes theft, insubordination, and other obvious and egregious behaviors.
4. The organization has moved in a direction where they're position is no longer valuable.
Lastly is the most vague and difficult one of the four. It doesn't include any disciplinary action. It doesn't include theft or insubordination. It doesn't include poor performance. Although it COULD involve all of these...but it doesn't have to. This is simply when an organization moves in a different direction. Or, it needs to make some cuts due to a budget shortfall. This particular termination takes some skill and definitely needs to be well-thoughtout. A leader must be careful to not base the decision on a discriminatory factor (i.e. age, gender, race, etc.). The decision must be able to be proved, in a court of law, to be one that is simply related to the position (not the person) becoming invaluable at the time of the decision.
One final thing I would add is that once you've identified an employee that fits in one of these four categories, it's important that you move forward with the termination as quickly as possible. The longer you wait, the more difficult it will be to take action. Delaying this action will have a negative impact on the overall operation of your organization.
This post originally appeared on timparsons.me.