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Should You Fire Your Cheerleader?

It depends.

A year ago I wrote an article about Terrorists. You may recall that according to the Welch Grid, a terrorist employee gives you above average performance and below average behavior. The question then was whether they should be fired. The easy answer was “of course”. The reality is it’s typically a very tough decision and even more difficult to execute.

The decision on a “cheerleader” is more interesting. The “cheerleader” employee gives us below average performance and above average behavior. For whatever reason their performance is less than expected. This might be temporary or it could be long term and just became apparent.

Their behavior is usually very good relative to company values and group norms. This may have been one of your original employees who has stuck it out with you through thick and thin. These are usually more “utility” players who lack specific skills but can wear a lot of organizational “hats”. They are very hard to let go of. These employees are your top supporters. They know the company fight song. Show up early. Leave late. Organize the company holiday party.

My experience is that there is usually one of three reasons for a “cheerleader”. I have never found one that didn’t fall into one of these three buckets.

#1. It’s either a resource or training issue.
They either don’t have the tools they need to do the job right or there is a developmental issue. Tools may include technology, hardware/software etc, financial resources, or maybe human support. The training issue may be addressed with a class, an on-line resource, or a performance coach.

#2. It’s right “bus”, wrong “seat”.
This comes from Jim Collins famous takeaway in “Good To Great” when he suggests “great companies have the right people on the bus, wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.”

In this case, you want this individual working for you; they just need to find a different job. Maybe they are sales and need to be moved to customer service. They are in operations and should be in accounting. They need a position in your company that better matches their individual skill sets.

#3. It’s personal.
The final option is that there is something wrong in their personal lives. Maybe it’s a health issue. A marital problem. Personal finances. The list goes on…
I have found that this is the toughest issue to diagnose of the three and the most difficult to address.

Several years ago one of my clients suggested to me in a meeting that he needed to fire his number one project manager. I was startled by this decision and asked what had happened. He said that the individual had been doing great until the last six months. The last couple projects had come in late and over budget. He was now at risk of losing his job.

I asked the client if the employee needed extra training or resources. He said no. The same employee had been performing very well in the same position for years. Next, I asked whether it was time to consider a different position for this key employee. Same answer. He had been a great project manager. Why switch him to a new job?

Finally, I asked my client if it was possible that something was going on outside of work. Immediately, he said “no”. Then he paused for a moment and said, “He did just go through a very nasty divorce”.

Bingo! That was it. No surprise that such a traumatic experience would impact the performance of any employee. Even a “superstar”.

My client went back to the employee and offered both time and support to him. Within six months, he was back to himself and his performance was stellar.

What about your cheerleader(s)? Which one of these situations best describes them?

What are you doing to support them?

Should they be fired? Hopefully not. It’s much harder to find individuals that share your values than it is to find those that can perform at an above average level.

Good luck!

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