Breaking up is hard to do, keeping morale up is harder 1

The other day I wrote about how it is really important to let go of people that aren’t executing. But, I thought it was important to talk a little bit more about that process. It’s really important for this to be handled delicately for many reasons, including, but most importantly, the team.

They key is that you don’t want to hurt company morale. No matter how you cut it, When letting go of people, it’s going to hurt the morale of the team (unless they flat out hated that person). If you are going through a lot of turn over, you’re going to have a team that feels beaten down. When a team starts feeling this way, you’re in trouble and it could effect the overall productivity that you get out of people. Obviously, is someone is not working out, you can’t sit on it and wait for too long, but, be careful during the process not to alienate people and provide respect to the person being let go.

Don’t let an employee become a cancer: On the opposite side of being careful by letting someone go not to hurt morale, you need to be proactive. By being proactive you mitigate the risk of someone on the team negatively impacting the morale and productivity of the team around them. Some people that don’t feel at home or don’t feel like it’s going to work out, will just start trash talking others and hurt the team’s morale. With these people, it’s important to fire fast and move on to finding the right person.

Follow up a firing by bringing the team together: Once you have let someone go, you want to rebuild the momentum of the team and get them back to feeling good. You don’t want people to think about the loss of a teammate for too long. You should be doing team building type activities, like taking the team out for a happy hour or something that is fun and out of the ordinary. Doing this will remind the team about the fact that they are a tight cohesive unit and that you are a part of that unit that wants to get stuff done.

Create Incentives: When letting someone go, you might consider creating incentives for other people on the team. Challenge people to meet certain deadlines and give them tough problems to solve. But, it doesn’t just end there, create an incentive structure to make that person want to beat those deadlines. An example of this can be an early completion bonus. Many contractors that finish public construction efforts, like a bridge, will receive a hefty payment bonus for doing so. Figure out what that incentive/bonus plan is, and get it implemented right away, the sooner, the better.

Hire someone new: Re-open that job description and get on the case of finding a replacement for the person you fired, immediately. When you do this, it creates a sense of urgency for the team. It helps the team feel like you understand that the resource is important and that you have their back. Also, the team won’t feel beaten down, like they have too much on their plate to get done. They know you are about to replace that person, so they are not overwhelmed. And, you can also incentivize the team to bring in someone they’ve worked with before or trust. If you do end up hiring that person, they can get some sort of cash bonus.

After all, keeping the team productive and their spirits high is the most important job of any executive. If you start failing at this and the team is starting to break down, you are in trouble and need to figure it out fast. If you slip and let it get out of hand, you have let your team down and not executing, and your team should hold you accountable for this.

How do you deal with “breaking up” or firing someone? What do you do to keep the team from being negative? How do you get them pumped up?

One comment on “Breaking up is hard to do, keeping morale up is harder

  1. Reply Vickie Bates Oct 11, 2011 12:31 pm

    All great points, Tony. Good managers are focused on team morale after such incidents. Some additional thoughts: Give employees enough space and some time to blow off steam; a firing is both disruptive and can be upsetting. Refocus the team on your shared goals, the purpose you’re all working toward. Use incentives, including encouraging anyone to apply for the re-posted position (if it’s a bump in salary or title).

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