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Ask Liz: should I fire a popular employee?

Ask Liz: should I fire a popular employee?
Dear Liz, a few months ago we hired a great guy who, as we thought, has fitted into the team really well. He’s had a really positive impact on the office, and everyone gets on very well with him. Unfortunately we’ve come to realise he doesn’t hold the skills we thought he did and isn’t progressing well in his actual role. Other people we interviewed may have fit the bill skill-wise, but wouldn’t have gelled as well into our working environment. What would you recommend I do – keep him or let him go?

This type of people management dilemma is not unusual in an agency environment. It can take a variety of forms such as: the employee who is loved by the client but does not fit into the workings of the agency; management being "friends" with the team which may compromise the manager if boundaries are not set; and the employee loved by the team but who cannot do the job.

Fit is very important but not at the expense of being able to do the job required. Managers often find these situations difficult as they confuse likeability with performance. This is not about measuring whether we like them or not, it is about whether they can perform the job they are paid to do. If you do not address this, the chances are that the client will get to it before you do. The team will also start to feel the pain as they pick up the growing slack.

So, what to do?

Clearly you need to make sure that they really do not have the ability to do the job. What are the competencies for their role and where are they specifically falling short? Discuss your performance concerns with them and agree the skills gap. Make all appropriate training available to them to ensure that they have been given every opportunity to address their skills gap.

If, having set them up for success with a coach/buddy/mentor, provided them with both guidance from you as their manager and all relevant learning and development, they are still not cutting the mustard, you will need to consult the HR team and the staff handbook for careful guidance on the process for managing poor performance. This process has all sorts of implications if not handled properly. If you still have any doubts, you can contact IPA Legal for advice from their employment lawyer.

This way you have set out to rectify the presenting issues and time will tell if the employee can deliver to the required level or not. As ever, you need to be specific about what you are not seeing so that the individual is clear about what they need to do to put it right.

Psychometric testing is a good way of assessing a person's general intelligence and should tell you if they have the necessary grey matter to learn the skills required. The testing will confirm their skills and ability to learn and develop, then the interview will tell you if you like them and they will gel with the rest of the team.

Our client teams are tight ships and everyone needs to pull their weight. To leave this situation unmanaged will present further issues down the line.

If you have an HR-related issue that you need answering by our expert Liz Nottingham, HR Director at Starcom MediaVest and VivaKi Country Talent & Transformation Officer, please contact her via Any questions published will appear anonymously.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and were submitted in accordance with the IPA's terms and conditions regarding the uploading and contribution of content to the IPA's newsletters, IPA website, or other IPA media, and should not be interpreted as representing the opinion of the IPA.

Last updated 04/09/2014

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