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Love an employee, but it’s not a good fit now? 5 questions to figure out what’s next



Most HR pros and front-line managers come to this fork in the road: You love an employee but are finding it’s not a good fit anymore.

Perhaps it’s a legacy employee who came up through the trenches, but isn’t willing to evolve any more? Or maybe it’s someone who’s fallen out of sync with organizational goals. It could be a long-time employee who seems to have lost passion for the role and/or organization.

So what do you do? Move the employee? Part ways? Hand out an ultimatum?

“We all know, but rarely understand, your company is only as strong as your people,” says Kurt Wilkin, the founder of HireBetter, in his book Who’s Your Mike?: A No-Bullshit Guide to the People You’ll Meet on Your Entrepreneurial Journey. “I’ve made a boatload of mistakes myself, and I’ve witnessed exponentially more. And many of those came from having the right people in the wrong seat and vice versa.”

The cost if it’s not a good fit

Not all employees who are in the wrong place at the wrong time are toxic. But a mismatch will almost always have an impact on team dynamics and productivity.

Most of the time, it’s in the best interest of the business and an employee to find the right fit — if it exists — or part ways. The consequences of not doing so are worse.

One bad employee — for instance, slackers, jerks, pessimists or sticks-in-the-mud — can cut team productivity as much as 40%, according to a study in Research in Organizational Behavior. Using that estimate, one person in the wrong role could cost an organization a $400,000 loss a year, analysts say.

A Harvard Business School study found less obvious, yet significant, negative effects of having the wrong people in the wrong places:

  • Almost half of employees “decreased [their] work effort” and intentionally spent less time at work when they had a toxic colleague
  • 38% intentionally decreased the quality of their work, and
  • 63% of the employees actually lost work time trying to avoid a colleague who was toxic.

“You know you need to recruit great people to build a great business. But it’s just as important, if not more, that you put those great people in the right roles — and get rid of poor performers and bad apples,” says Wilkin. “Sounds easy, right? Like most things in business, the seemingly easy stuff is often the hardest.”

So whether you see it anecdotally or have data to prove an issue exists, consider if it’s still a good fit.

Analyze the situation with these questions — and recognize they can apply to anyone from legacy employees to new hires and front-line workers to the CEO:

1. Would you rehire?

Knowing your organization today and where you’re going, would you enthusiastically rehire this person for their current role?

If the company’s goals and vision have changed in recent years — and most have since the pandemic — this is important to figure out if employees are in the right places and how you might find the right people going forward, too.

Remember, Wilkin says, even if the answer isn’t an enthusiastic yes doesn’t mean you need to fire someone. It might mean it’s time to explore a different career path.

2. Are the right skills in place?

Does the employee have the skills, experience and resourcefulness to get to the next level and/or take the organization to new heights?

Employees might have the passion and skills, but do they have enough experience to effectively go in a new direction?

Again, if not, it doesn’t mean termination. You may want to pair the employee with a coach or mentor who has that experience.

3. How strong could a team be?

What if I had a team of this one employee? How strong would it be?

It’s a crazy thought, but Wilkin says it’s a good gut-check. Essentially, the hypothetical exercise should evoke an emotional reaction — and a strong one either way will help you see if someone is in the right place or not.

For instance, if you immediately get a sinking feeling thinking about that pretend team, you likely don’t have someone in a good place.

4. What if the employee quits?

What if the employee quits tomorrow morning — how would I feel?

This is another hypothetical to put things into perspective.

For instance, if that question caused a little panic — and you’re thinking how to stop the employee from quitting — you likely have the right person in the right place.

5. How bad is it?

Is this annoying or toxic?

Anytime you evaluate fit, you’ll come up with some things that aren’t ideal. It’s a natural outcome. So take the extra step to gauge the level of potential issues.

For instance, are there behaviors or practices that are simply annoying? Or are there behaviors that question ethics or legalities? Occasional issues are not indicative of future fit. Recurring issues are.

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