As we discussed in Part 1 of this series, in order for leaders to make the most ideal business decisions, they must begin by asking the right questions. Last week we established the essential questions leaders should be asking themselves: What is our true mission and passion? What are our expectations, both financially and non-financially? Have we reached these goals? If not, what is missing and holding us back? Are we innovating and listening to the “voice of the customer”, or are we just trying to sell the same products to a new marketplace? The answers to these questions will determine the trajectory of the company. Of course, the answers to these questions will invariably uncover another painful one: Will there be operational or personnel changes necessary to fill the “gap” between our ideal, and reality?

Sometimes operational changes- whether simple or complex- can fill this gap. Existing procedures and tools may antiquated and inefficient. More often than not, specific staff members and in some cases, entire departments, lack the proper resources to execute our well-intentioned plans, or the existing metrics are not clearly outlined. In many cases, operational deficiencies can be eliminated easily when teams come together to examine what is working and what is hindering their success – so long as leadership is willing to truly listen to the results.

The more complicated piece of this puzzle, however, centers on proper hiring and training. More often than not, these two areas are responsible for a great deal of missed goals and failed initiatives. As we showed in Part 1, a company’s leadership team cannot assume their teams are receiving proper staffing or training. When was the last time you as an Executive, reviewed the tools used for hiring, vetting, and onboarding new employees? Is there a relationship between current success and existing skills? Would certain departments benefit from extended training or perhaps learning new skills or redistributing responsibilities? Now that many businesses are back in growth mode, perhaps hiring some additional talent would lessen the burden placed on your staff.

Sometimes, these tactical solutions will solve the problem. However, in some instances, a renewed focus on training and effective hiring uncovers previous hiring mistakes that have been largely unaddressed. Unfortunately, some leaders are then faced with an even more difficult question: To fire or not to fire? “Trimming the Deadwood” as business coach Jamie Sussel Turner aptly named it, must be considered. In today’s 24/7, hyper-competitive, and unapologetic marketplace, your business cannot afford to allow unproductive or inefficient staff to remain. Not a week goes by without hearing an executive proclaim “Why didn’t I cut this guy loose sooner?”. Unless there is a blatant disregard for professional or personal policies, deciding to terminate someone’s employment should never be done “on the spot.” For both ethical and legal reasons, not to mention the sake of business continuity, an employee should be given the opportunity to address any deficiencies, prior to termination.

Here are 5 important questions leaders should ask when deciding to fire or not to fire:

1. Is the issue a one-time incident or a pattern? Even the best employees will drop the ball or make an important error once in a while. While practices and procedures are in place to avoid these mistakes as much as possible, human error is unavoidable. When an employee fails to meet expectations, managers must determine if this is a one-time lapse in judgment or evidence of an emerging pattern.

2. Have I addressed the problem in question? Regardless of whether or not it’s a first offense, employees should be given the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. The ability to recognize their mistakes and rectify the issue will help to eliminate any ambiguity or incomplete process that contributed to the problem. As the leader of your department or group, it is your responsibility to identify where the employee veered from the intended path. Clearing up any confusion may stave off any future problems.

3. Did the employee’s attitude and effort change, following the constructive feedback? While managers can help troubled employees by clearly addressing problems, creating new goals and expectations, in the end, it’s up to the employee to do the work. After providing your employee with insights into their mistake, has she shown signs of learning from your comments? Has she implemented any new practices and is she back on track to meet the stated goals? If not, it’s time to turn them loose, knowing that you did all you could to salvage the professional relationship. If her performance has changed for the better, perhaps more time should be given before a final evaluation and determination is made regarding her future with the company.

4. Does the employee’s current skills and experience align with the company’s “actual” goals? Companies are responsible for providing appropriate training to their employees, equipping them with the tools necessary to reach their goals. However, there is a limit to what an employer can do. If, for example, the company has decided to diversify its client base, incorporate a new product, or adjust its manufacturing process, it’s time to evaluate whether the current staff has the business acumen and skill set necessary to support this new direction. If this is the case, the only viable option is to replace the current employee with someone who is more scalable. We hear this scenario quite often among our clients, and it usually sounds something like “Unfortunately, our business has just outgrown Bob’s abilities. He was a fantastic Director of Sales over the past 4 years, but he doesn’t have the skills we will need over the next 4”.

5. Is the employee’s current behavior and lack of productivity impacting the team? Whether your company emphasizes collaboration or not, employees work together and interact on a daily basis. As we all learned as children, one bad apple can spoil the bunch. A company’s morale can plummet very quickly when there is a disgruntled or negative employee in the office. Other members of the team can easily lose motivation when surrounded by negativity. Moreover, if an unhappy employee’s performance drops, it is often left up to the others to pick up the slack. Nothing breeds resentment and discontent like feeling as though you are doing someone else’s job. Nip the problem in the bud before it grows and infiltrates the entire team.

While the decision to fire someone is certainly more emotional than the decision to hire, both can and should be treated as an exercise in objectivity. They should not be taken likely. Working with a team that blends seasoned professionals with “new blood” who are eager to take on a new challenge, is the ideal combination. Pruning your team is sometimes necessary to make that happen.