Skip to main content

WNC Business

When to fire a non-performer

May 21, 2024 09:00AM ● By Meridith Elliott Powell

I recently got a call from a leader with the challenge that no leader wants to deal with – determining if it's time to fire a non performer. You know this story, as you have most likely been there as leaders.

You hire a person that comes highly recommended, and you are excited to have them on the team. You assign them a role or a territory, and you sit back and wait for them to excel in this new position.

The first month goes by and there’s no results from your new team member. That’s okay, you justify the lack of results to the fact that they are new, and after all it is just the first thirty days. Then the second month goes by and again lackluster results. Again, you justify it by saying it’s just the second month and the results will come.

Then there you are three of four months down the road and still your “new” person is not performing at the level you had hoped for. Now you are getting worried, and you wonder how to handle the situation and if you should fire this non performer.

Is It Time To Fire A Non Performer?

When you are wrestling with the challenge of how to handle a non performer, the first challenge you need to deal with is you, the leader. Before you ever think about disciplining an employee or actually taking the drastic step of firing someone, you need to ask if you, as the leader, have done your job.

You can’t hold a team member accountable if you have not held yourself accountable. There are three very important questions you need to ask yourself before you expect others to meet your expectations.

Three Questions Every Leader Needs To Ask

1) Have I made my expectations clear?

More than sixty percent of disciplinary issues happen not because team members do not want to do a good job, but because you as the leader have not made your expectations clear. You and your team members need to be aligned on exactly what needs to be accomplished. Ensure they are aligned with the expected behaviors, results, and values.

2) Have I provided support and training?

Once the expectations are clear, then you need to ensure that your team member has the skills, tools, and resources to accomplish those expectations. Your job as a leader is to ensure your team members are well-equipped to accomplish and exceed their goals.

3)Have I determined the issue?

Once you have been clear on the expectations and provided the support and training, then you have all you need to determine if your underperformer is under performing because of a skill issue or a discipline issue. Are they under performing because they do not quite have all the skills and tools they need, or are they choosing to not do what you are expecting of them? Is their underperformance a discipline issue or skill issue?

Three Signs It’s Time To Fire A Non Performer

Once you have done your homework as a leader, then you have all the information you need to determine if it is time to fire a non performer. Here are three signs you need to look for to ensure you are making the best decision for both of you.

1) You Have A Discipline Issue

The reason you set both behavior and results expectations is because it helps you determine whether your non performer is struggling from a skills perspective or is just choosing not to do the job – a discipline issue. A skill issue you can fix, a discipline issue you can’t. So if your non performer is not doing the behaviors you are asking, then it is time to let them go.

2) They Don’t Align With Your Values

Even a top performer is not a productive member of the team if they do not align with your values. This is one of the hardest fires you will ever have to make, but it will result in one of the most productive actions you take as a leader. When a team member chooses not to align and act according to your values, it is time to let them go.

3) They Are The Wrong Fit

And last but not least, it is time to let a non performer go if they are just on the wrong seat on the bus. In other words, their skills and abilities do not match the job. For example, someone who loves people and variety may never excel in a data entry position. And someone who loves data and numbers may struggle in a sales position. The great thing about figuring out someone is the wrong fit is you may not have to let them go, and can just find them a different position in your company.

Firing someone is never easy, but when you as the leader have done everything you need to do to help someone be successful and they are still underperforming, then taking the position to let them go is the best decision you can make for them, for your team, and for you. It is the best decision you can make to ensure you turn all of this uncertainty to your greatest competitive advantage.

Meridith Elliott Powell is an author, keynote speaker, and an expert in business growth, sales, and leadership. Learn more at