Should you fire talented employees who frequently turn work in late and call in sick? If you could just get them to start working on projects sooner, they wouldn’t have to overexert themselves, wind up sick, and miss another deadline.

How about the ones who hoard information and don’t play well with others? Don’t they understand that the company’s success depends on a team effort?

Of course, there are many reasons to fire an employee, but don’t make the same mistake Gale almost did.

Sitting across from Gale, I listened as she shared a story about Tammy, a young woman she hired nearly two years earlier.

“She was probably at the top of her class in college—she’s smart, but we can’t seem to get her to complete projects in a timely manner. I think it’s a cultural thing,” Gale, the CEO of a well-established company, said.

“What do you mean by a ‘cultural thing?’” I asked.

“She’s from _____ (another country), and that must be the way they do things in that culture. She’s probably also still doing what college kids do—wait till the last minute, and then pull an all-nighter.”

“Is she getting the work done on time?”

“No, and the team thinks we need to let her go. If she can’t get the work done on time, and she’s out sick constantly, we can’t have her on staff,” Gale said.

At this point, I had a clear understanding of the critical mistakes Tammy was making, and I could see why Gale was struggling. Tammy also adds value, knows the company, and cares about the end product.

“Have you or anyone on your team ever given her this kind of feedback?” I asked.

“No,” Gale said, with an inquisitive look on her face.

“Do you know her future goals?” I asked.

“When Tammy first came to the company, she wanted to do the work she’s currently doing.”

I suggested she get the answers to these questions before giving her feedback:

  1. How are things going for you here? (Listen intently. Then, without defensiveness, repeat back what you heard to make sure you got it. Take notes.)
  2. Do you have the skills you need to do your job successfully every time? (Listen, and take notes).
  3. Are you meeting the people you hoped to meet, developing the skills you hoped to develop, and enjoying your experience here? If not, how can I help? (Listen, and take notes. Stay focused on listening.)
  4. If you closed your eyes right now, and it was suddenly three years down the road, what would you like to be able to say you did? What skills, experiences, and connections would you like to acquire in the next six months? (Listen, and take lots of notes. Even “I don’t know” is worth noting. Follow it up with, “If you did know…”)
  5. What do you do exceptionally well in your current role? Where do you struggle the most and why? (Please… Listen, and take notes. Assumptions kill these conversations.)

Once you’ve had this conversation authentically, you’ll know what you need to do to help employees succeed in their career.

For Gale, that may mean helping her find an opportunity with another employer. Or, Tammy may respond positively to the wake-up call and start completing her work on time.

After going through the questions above, you’ll have the foundation of trust necessary to provide guidance that gets results. Here are the three most critical elements to giving constructive feedback: consistently seek it (receiving teaches you how to give generously), timeliness (providing feedback as close to the problematic moment as possible builds trust), and specificity (what you did, and what you could do differently).

Whatever you do, don’t fire someone until you 1) know the answers to those questions, 2) help them advance in their career, and 3) share your own future aspirations and challenges. This is the good stuff of any relationship.

Here’s to Your Greatness,

Misti Burmeister

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