Being a leader means that you make tough decisions ranging from strategy, risk, capital allocation, to personnel. Of these decisions, personnel decisions are the toughest, in particular when it involves good people. Specifically, situations in which a person has previously performed well and does the job in accordance to the organization’s core behaviors and then the job requirements shift higher than the person can reach or jump. Making a decision becomes even tougher when the person is a long-term employee.
I’m seeing it happen much more frequently because of three reasons, each resulting from companies becoming more digital:
1. Routine, repetitive transactions are being automated. As a result, people are having to use more judgment to do their jobs because they are having to address exceptions all of the time.
2. Organizations are reducing spans of control and becoming flatter. As a result, they are pushing decision-making farther down into the organization. People are having to make decisions their boss use to make.
3. Organizations are also optimizing processes from end-to-end. As a result, people must have the ability to operate horizontally across the organization instead of just within their department or function.
The worst thing leaders can do is leave the person in their current position. Reason being, the person knows that the job is above their head before the leader does. The rest of the organization also knows. The longer a leader waits, the number of problems continues to mount, and the more frustrated the person and the team becomes.
Leaders should always first try to reassign the person. When there are no options, leaders have to make the tough decision to let the person go. You can do it in a way that treats the person with the most dignity and respect, and give the person the best severance you can. If you don’t, whoever replaces you will let the person go with the minimal amount of severance possible because your successor will not know the full scope and history of the person and their contributions to the team to that point..
After you make the decision, you are going to feel very badly. Take comfort in knowing that the person will land another job that better fits their ability, or move forward to pursue other interests.
One of the toughest decisions I had to make involved flattening the organization. I let a good VP go who was responsible for several plants. He was madder than hell at me when I did. Less than six months later, he called me to rub in my nose that he had landed another position. He was surprised when I told him I knew he would because he was a good person who did great work when he was in the right job.
In closing, I know that many of you are faced with this reality as a boss or as the person displaced. The quicker a decision is made, the better off the person and the organization will be.