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Fire The Behaviour

“How much longer are you going to let this one person require too much of your energy and drag down the team culture?”

Some version of the question has been one of the most important challenges I’ve given to leaders I’ve advised over the past several years. I’m not an employment lawyer or HR professional so all I can offer is the insights gained from my own experience, observations, and reflections.

Time and again there is a hesitance to explicitly confront problematic people, or to terminate them when the leader has determined in their own mind that the needed change isn’t going to happen. 

I get it. Firing people is costly on many levels and I’m not sure I’d want to work with someone who enjoyed it. On top of that there is  the fear of legal consequences and a very human desire to not hurt anyone. It’s tough.

We know the axiom of “hire slowly, fire quickly” but actually doing it is rare.

Too often we tolerate people who’s attitudes, behaviour, or relational failings are negatively impacting the entire group. It’s so tempting to keep trying to nudge them into line or justify the need to wait just a little longer before making the move, especially if they are otherwise productive. Some blend of compassion, confusion, and cowardice extends the situation and increases the damage.

What if we reframe the dynamic?

Instead of firing the person, fire the behaviour. 

Once you’ve determined that a pattern of behaviour needs to be eliminated be decisive about getting rid of it. As a leader that’s your responsibility. The individual is then responsible for their efforts to remain in the organization by changing, or they can leave. (I know the ultimate effect is the same but the mindset shift may make it easier).

By firing the behaviour early and providing the individual with every opportunity to stay through coaching, training, accountability, or whatever accommodations you can reasonably provide; you are emphasizing your organizations capture and values. You are defining the way things are around here. And you are creating space between the person and the problem for a solution to be found. You are giving them clarity and a chance.

Set yourself, your team, and your employee free from the unhealthy dynamic. Focus on the real issue. Reinforce what matters. And do it now.

You can not afford to keep hoping the situation gets better, and you don’t want to fire the employee: Fire the behaviour. 


Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

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