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Letting go of your managers: crucial but definitely not easy

One of the most important tasks directors have, is to ensure that their management team performs well. That it is built in a balanced way and that its members complement each other well.

Sooner or later, directors come to the conclusion that a member of their management team doesn’t perform well anymore and has to be replaced. This member’s dismissal is inevitable, but is almost always preceded by difficult decisions. It all starts with serious doubts about the performances.

Directors start asking themselves: “Am I wrong?” “Is this bad performance temporary?” “Are there professional or personal reasons?” “Is improvement still possible?” or even “Is it my fault?”

Often, the beginning is the most difficult period. Directors especially need to consider the situation by themselves and often have to tackle these problems on their own. It's hard to get really good advice from your people in the internal organization.

There comes a time that your doubts fade away and dismissal has become inevitable. How do you need to proceed then? Below, you can find my personal experience in this field.
  1. As long as it doesn’t concern integrity issues, in my view everyone should get an opportunity to improve. You need to have an in-depth discussion with the manager concerned. Usually, this isn’t a regular one-on-one meeting, in order to avoid losing time.
  2. During this 'correction' stage, it is very important to keep your relationship as good as possible and to trust each other. Nobody likes to be confronted with bad news. Still, the items discussed have to be written down because written words just have a different impact.
  3. An important question you must ask yourself is: “How much time should I give someone to improve?”. There’s no single answer to this question but in my experience, you will already see after a few weeks if this person is willing to take the challenge or not.
  4. You must keep a file describing the course of events; it might help you during possible legal discussions later on. In practice however, such files often aren’t kept, which increases the financial impact for the organization. You will thus save lots of money by keeping a good file!
  5. The actual dismissal notification only takes a few minutes. In this context, there’s a simple rule: the shorter and clearer, the better! The bad-news discussion starts with the announcement. Subsequently, you need to check whether it has been understood.
  6. During a dismissal conversation, it is important to also discuss the manager’s future, for two reasons. Firstly, it will become clear for the manager that his/her future function will differ from the current one. Secondly, the manager needs to feel really supported by his/her future ‘former’ boss. The future relationship will, to a large extent, be determined during this dismissal conversation. Over the past few decades, I had to dismiss many people but luckily, I still have good contacts with most of them.
  7. Dismissal is digital. In other words: you can’t dismiss someone a little bit. Therefore, I don’t like to keep people into function after having dismissed them. Usually, this means that they take paid leave and are waiting at home until their period of notice comes to an end, so that they can finally leave the company. The company as well as the manager concerned must be able to carry on as soon as possible.

When it comes down to letting go of your managers, you need to carefully consider the situation, make your decision and act firmly, taking into account the human aspects. These are crucial elements for the organization, the motivation of the people staying behind and the manager concerned.

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