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Should New Managers Fire Underperformers Right Away?


Let’s say you’ve recently taken over a team of workers. Perhaps you’ve been promoted into the role, or perhaps you’re a new hire. Whatever the case, suggests Ron Ashkenas in Harvard Business Review Blog Network, the biggest mistake you can make is to hesitate too long in getting rid of the people who just aren’t making the cut.

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(Photo Credit: Victor1558/Flickr)

If that sounds harsh, consider:

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“Most new managers are not hired or promoted to be business caretakers and status quo maintainers,” Ashkenas writes. “Instead they are expected to take their department or unit to a next level of performance — and putting the strongest team on the field as quickly as possible is one of the keys to making that happen. That’s why a CEO recently said to me that the ability to make tough people calls was the most important leadership characteristic he looked for in members of his own team.”

Ashkenas is a managing partner of Shaffer Consulting, has written several books on management, and has worked with clients ranging from J.P. Morgan Chase to The Visiting Nurses Association of New York. He has plenty of experience, in other words, making tough calls. Unsurprisingly, however, his advice set off a firestorm in the comments section, which raised several good points:

1. Good managers make good teams.

It’s hard to know for sure whether underperformers are suffering from a lack of leadership or a lack of skill and/or passion. Furthermore, it’s expensive to replace people, so getting rid of someone precipitously could wind up costing you in the long run.

2. Corporate culture should always be a consideration.

“Coming in as a manager with guns blazing can only alienate the manager and easily destroy the team spirit,” writes one commenter. “One bad apple does not always spoil the bunch, the bunch is stronger.”

3. Real underperformers will show their true colors in time.

As managers continue to raise expectations and improve the performance of workers who are truly committed, the theory goes, the wheat will naturally separate itself from the chaff. And then the chaff will quit or be let go.

Tell Us What You Think

What would you do — let the underperformers go, or try to turn them around? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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