Saying Goodbye

By Jim Moody, CAE
CSA President

In the past six weeks or so, I’ve heard of several dealers who are parting ways with senior managers. Meanwhile, I’m serving as a shoulder to cry on for my wife as she deals with a difficult situation with a long-tenured, senior employee she manages. Between the insights I've had with a couple of the dealers and the conversations I’ve had at home, I’ve come to recognize a few things.

First, there are times when it’s clear that someone needs to go and we choose to do nothing about it. Sometimes we think that we couldn’t find anyone to do the job better. It’s true that finding really good people can be challenging. It’s also true that hiring is somewhat of a crapshoot – sometimes, no matter how well you do it, you run into a bad roll. But, there are good people out there. No one is irreplaceable. It may take significant effort, but you CAN find someone who can and will do an acceptable job.

Sometimes we just don’t like conflict, and the closer the person is to the top, the harder it is to confront them about their work. Often these folks have “been like family” and that clouds our vision when we should be evaluating them objectively. It’s very, very difficult to terminate someone who you once considered more of a friend than an employee. One of the joys of running a small business is being able to have these kinds of relationships, but great employees don’t always stay great forever. Sometimes good people do bad things or slip into mediocrity.

Sometimes we delude ourselves on the negative impact or lack of positive impact the person is having on the business. Or perhaps we have failed to manage well and are ignorant of the trend until an obvious red flag is raised years after the performance has begun to slip. Regardless of the situation, most of us make a choice to retain top-level employees long after their performance justifies termination.

My second epiphany is that the actual letting go is never easy. The employee in question is never going to see the situation through your lenses. No matter how obvious it is to you, they are not just going to listen to you and say, “You’re right. Tell me what I need to do to fix this and I’ll start immediately.” While it may be painfully obvious to every other person in the company that the employee is a drain, the employee probably thinks he or she is still a shining star and is likely going to be defensive when you confront them.

One way to avoid this is to provide a realistic performance appraisal at least annually. I have been in this industry long enough to know this is pretty rare. Waiting until things get out of hand to give employees your honest impression of their performance is somewhat useless because you’ve already reached the point that you’ve written them off.

My final observation is that once you do it, you will have no regrets. You will find that there’s a weight off you AND other employees. You generally find out things that were hidden to you previously that had you known them, you would have terminated the employee immediately. You’ll kick yourself for waiting so long. Employees who had been demotivated by your failure to act sooner will become more productive. Morale will improve.

So, once you’ve decided to make a move, step back from your anger and frustration and allow your rational side to take a seat for a moment. Be humane in how you treat the person you are letting go. At some point, they contributed to your company. At some point, they were an important person in your life and you in theirs. Be kind when you think about severance and the way you communicate the person’s departure to your employees, customers and community. In the long run you will feel better about the termination and yourself.