Managing Performance When Someone Cannot Be Fired

Managing Performance When Someone Cannot Be Fired
March 5, 2024 admin

Navigating performance issues with a team member who cannot be fired presents a unique challenge for leaders. Whether due to legal, union, or policy constraints, the inability to terminate an employee necessitates a more nuanced approach to improving performance. The key lies in understanding the root causes, engaging in constructive dialogue, and leveraging development opportunities. Here’s how leaders can effectively manage this delicate situation.


Understand the Underlying Issues

Comprehensive Assessment: Begin by conducting a thorough assessment of the performance issue. Look beyond the symptoms to understand the root causes. Are there external factors, such as personal issues or workplace challenges, affecting performance? Is there a mismatch between the team members’ skills and their job responsibilities?

Open Communication: Initiate a candid conversation with the team member about their performance. Approach this discussion with empathy, focusing on specific, observable behaviors rather than making personal judgments. Ensure the conversation is two-way, allowing the team member to share their perspective and use open ended, curious questions.

Generate Awareness: Sometimes a team member may not think their behavior is a problem or understand how they come across to others. Initiating a 360-feedback process such as Checkpoint 360 or Genos Emotional Intelligence Assessments to get other perspectives outside of the manager can be extremely helpful. Choose key stakeholders who will provide open and honest feedback.


Find the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me)

Identify Stakeholders of Influence: Find others who can support the case for behavioral change. Who does the team member respect? Do they have a mentor or another leader or team member who might be able to support the conversation?  It could be their union leader or someone else who can support the messages around performance and perhaps have more influence on their behavior. Consider engaging others in the process, but ONLY if it is appropriate to do so. If you have any questions, check with your HR team.

Carrots and Consequences that Matter: People do things for their reasons, not ours. What does the team member care about? How can it be tied to their need to improve performance? Is there a potential promotion that could be at risk? Perhaps they will be offered a lesser role if they don’t improve or have key clients taken away? Impacts to reputation and credibility can be motivating even if you cannot remove the person from the organization.


Develop a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP)

Set Clear, Achievable Goals: Together with the team member, develop a Performance Improvement Plan that outlines specific, measurable objectives within a realistic timeframe. Ensure these goals are achievable and directly linked to the performance issues identified. PIPs work best when the team member creates the first draft. People are more likely to act on their own plans and ideas than on those “handed down” as directives.

Provide Necessary Support: Identify what support the team member needs to achieve these goals. This might include additional training, mentoring, or adjustments to their workload or responsibilities. Make it clear that the organization is invested in their success.


Foster a Growth Mindset

Encourage Learning: Promote an environment where learning from mistakes is valued over punitive measures. Encourage the team member to view challenges as opportunities for growth, fostering a positive attitude towards improvement.

Celebrate Progress: Acknowledge and celebrate progress, however small. Positive reinforcement can boost the team member’s motivation and confidence, driving further improvements in performance.


Regular Feedback and Check-Ins

Scheduled Reviews: Implement regular check-ins to discuss progress, address any new challenges, and adjust the PIP as necessary. These check-ins provide an opportunity for ongoing support and guidance.

Constructive Feedback: Ensure feedback is constructive and focused on specific behaviors that the team member can change. Avoid general criticisms that can demotivate and demoralize. Focus on the issue or behavior in your conversations. The behavior is “unproductive”, not Joey.


Leverage Peer Support and Mentorship

Mentorship Programs: Pair the team member with a mentor who can provide guidance, share experiences, and offer emotional support. A mentor can play a crucial role in the team member’s professional development and performance improvement, especially if there is a relationship struggle with the direct manager.

Encourage Team Support: Foster a supportive team environment where peers can offer help and encouragement. Peer support can enhance learning and create a more inclusive and motivating workplace.


Alternative Strategies

Job Redesign or Reassignment: If the performance issues stem from a poor job fit, consider redesigning the team member’s role to better match their skills and interests or exploring other positions within the organization that may be a better fit.

Parting Ways Mutually: In cases where improvement is not feasible, and the team member’s continued presence in the role is detrimental to the team or organization, explore mutual separation agreements as a last resort. This approach should be handled sensitively and in accordance with organizational policies and legal guidelines.


Handling performance issues when termination is not an option requires patience, empathy, and a strategic approach. By understanding the root causes, setting clear improvement goals, and providing ongoing support and feedback, leaders can help team members overcome performance challenges. This not only aids in the team member’s personal and professional development but also enhances team dynamics and organizational performance.


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