One of the defining aspects of a good leader is their ability to build a team of talented individuals who collectively strive to succeed. To build a successful team you’ll go through every aspect in the HR textbook – select and recruit the right set of people, train and develop their skills, engage and motivate them and inspire them to utilize their full potential. But it doesn’t stop there.

You as their leader are responsible for the output produced by your team. And that’s why you have to continuously be on your toes to extract the best out of them. But sometimes your best efforts aren’t enough to get the most out of your team. Sometimes all your strategies and tools fall short to drive performance. Sometimes you just have to let go of people.

Without a doubt, this is probably the hardest aspect of being a manager, a leader and an HR professional. And unfortunately, it has to be you, the leader and captain of the team. While letting go of someone you’ve worked with for a while now isn’t easy, it’s not necessarily the wrong thing to do. Bob Pritchett in his book Fire Someone Today has elaborated on why it’s wise to let go of people. Here are a few reasons I feel it’s sometimes the right move to make.

1. Trimming the Workforce

This problem tends to creep up on organizations that have been operational for a while. As you hire more specialized and skilled resources you tend to spread the workload thin (not always, but it does happen). Several organizations go through exercises of studying their workforce productivity and utilization to decipher if their headcount is optimal. The learning gained from such activities is that you may have individuals who:

  • are underutilized,
  • have reached their glass ceiling and cannot be given any new growth opportunities, or,
  • are redundant (i.e. you may as well merge the position with another and let go of one resource).

No matter the finding, what’s important for you as an HR professional is that your headcount is lean and optimally utilized.

2. Raising the Bar

Once you’ve identified your underperformers and come up with a strategy to let them go, you’re automatically allowing your organization to be left with performers. Conduct the same exercise next cycle and you’ll again be letting go of your next line of under performers. What’s actually happening here is you’re constantly raising the bar of what ‘underperformance’ is. Those who performed at par last year won’t be able to stick around this year if they produced the same performance. And this is because last year’s par is now underperformance.

So as a leader who desires to have an organization filled with top talent and high performing individuals, letting go of your weakest link is a blessing in disguise.

3. New Opportunities

If you believe in the fact that people truly do learn from their mistakes, then you’ll believe that there are new opportunities that they can exploit. I’m not saying that the only reason to let go of people is because they made mistakes. Your decision could be based on other organizational strategies. But when someone is hit with the hardships of unemployment they are forced to consider alternatives. There’s a good possibility that they’ll now seek new opportunities that they probably couldn’t while they were employed. You may even consider it as a service you’ve done for the person you’re letting go of.

Who Do You Let Go Of?

So while you consider these benefits of why you should let go of people, your decision to do so should be concrete. It has to be based on hard facts that you can back. How do you select people to let go of? Here are a few obvious reasons:

Performing below expectations

Probably the most common way to select who you should let go of is performance. No team or organization can survive or succeed with underperformers. The first step should be to counsel them, followed by a formal improvement plan. But it all else fails, parting could be the only option.

Unwilling or Unable to accept change

Here is your classic set of individuals who often say “but we’ve been doing it this way for years now”. If you can’t evolve and adapt you minimize your chances to be a part of the future. For a growing organization adaptability and acceptance of change is pivotal.

Lacking Enthusiasm and Drive

It’s easier to motivate people when things are going well for an organization. During pressure situations, it’s a different ballgame. These bumps along the way can help you see who really is aligned with the organization’s culture and strategies. Those who are still enthusiastic and driven after their probation and who can weather the storm with a positive attitude are your keepers.

Conflicting with the Organization’s Culture

A common mistake hiring managers make is hiring people with right skills for a position but not the right personality. Getting the job done is the easy part. But in the larger scheme of things you need people who are cultural fits. As the organization grows and the culture gets more prominent, those who aren’t aligned get alienated. They either decide to leave or, to protect your organization’s culture, you have to decide to let them go.

So you could base your decision to let go of people on any of these or find other reasons. But what’s imperative is that when you do let go of people do it the right way. What that means is you should consult HR, get your supporting documents in order, ensure you’ve mitigated all legal risks and are letting people go for the right reasons. Here are some key things to look out for that Rebecca Knight has outlined.