Three Strikes and You’re Out!

It’s disappointing when an employee doesn’t meet your expectations. You may be frustrated, but it’s important to assume goodwill on the part of the poor performer. No one gets up in the morning and plans to disappoint you. No one wants to fail at his or her job.

But not everyone is going to be a good fit for your company. That’s a fact. If one of your team members just doesn’t get it, doesn’t want the job, or doesn’t have the capacity to do it, don’t let the drama drag on.

How do you know when you’ve given enough chances? How do you know when it’s time to let the person go?

The Analysis

Here’s a fair process for confronting performance problems and getting the wrong people off the bus:

1. Does the person adhere to your organization’s core values?

Really, the ideal team member exhibits behavior that supports ALL of the organization’s core values most or all of the time. But when you need to draw the line, where do you draw it?

First, you have your “non-negotiable” values, like honesty. If the person doesn’t adhere to those non-negotiable values, s/he needs to go. There’s just not a lot of room for discussion here.

If the employee meets all of your non-negotiable core values but is iffy on two or more of the others (like “reliability” or “service first”), it’s time to let that person go.

2. Does the person pass the GWC test?

The GWC test (Gets it, Wants it, has the Capacity) is the second phase of the analysis.

  • Does the person “get it,” meaning does s/he understand her role, the team’s values, and the applicable systems and expectations?
  • Does the employee want it, meaning does s/he really want that particular job?
  • Does the employee have the capacity (time, intellect, skill, knowledge, emotional intelligence, and physical ability) to do the job?

If the answer to any of the questions is “no,” ask yourself if the person is the right fit but in the wrong seat. Can you make room for the employee somewhere else in your organization? If not, it’s time for that person to go.

The Three Strike Rule

Assuming it’s a situation where you can’t move the person to another seat and want to give her a chance to improve, use the three-strike rule as outlined by Gino Wickman in Traction. First, tell the employee that there’s a problem and give her 30 days to improve. That’s Strike 1. Here’s what could happen:

  • The person totally turns things around, improves performance, and shows that s/he is actually a good fit. It’s a win-win for all involved.
  • The person leaves your practice. That’s OK. It wasn’t a fit, and you can all move on.
  • Performance does not improve in 30 days. That’s Strike 2. You discuss it again and give her another 30 days. No improvement. That’s Strike 3. The employee is not going to change, and you have to let the person go.

Remember, just because a particular employee is not a good fit for your company culture, or for the role you need to fill, does not mean she won’t be a good fit someplace else. She is probably tired of disappointing you. It is in the best interest of your company, your team, and the under-performer to let her go.


Invest in Your Star Performers

The employees who live your values, work toward your vision, and nurture great relationships with clients and team members–those are the star performers. Give them your time, attention, and resources.

Why? First, it’s good for your business. The more you invest in them, the better they will be at their jobs. Developing the right people is a much better use of your time than trying to improve the performance of the wrong people.

Second, you are not the only shop in town. There are other companies out there competing for your most talented employees. Invest in them if you want to keep them.

 Delegate and Elevate

To develop your star performers, “delegate and elevate.” Give them opportunities to take over tasks or projects that will help them grow. Give them a say in the responsibilities they will take over.

To identify delegation opportunities, ask, “What am I doing that you would like to be doing?” Or, “What I am doing that you think is more appropriate for you to be doing?”

Demonstrate Trust

Offer direction and support, but don’t micromanage. Remember, your star performers are the “right people” who are already living your organizational values. You don’t need to constantly monitor them. Focus on your own core competencies and leadership duties.

To demonstrate that you trust them, ask, “In what ways, or on which projects, am I micromanaging you?” Then listen and be open to feedback. Keep it safe for them to communicate openly.

Encourage Growth

Encourage your high performers to write their own personal purpose, vision, and values statements. As Peter Senge points out in The Fifth Discipline, it’s good for the company when employees define themselves through their own personal vision and values. During the exercise, your star performers will make connections between their own passions and goals and the opportunities and needs of the organization. Their commitment to your organization increases in the process.

To encourage people to see the connection between their personal goals and the organization’s needs, ask, “What opportunities or issues do you see that you could take ownership of, or take responsibility for solving?”

When you have the right people in the right seats, and you work to help them reach their maximum potential, everyone benefits–you, your company, your team, your clients, and the star performers. Developing the right people is an investment in your business’s success.

What Would Shawn Do: Don’t Stir the Soup


We have a problem with constant gossiping and backbiting in our office. It has gotten to the point where my job is no longer enjoyable. Why does this go on and what can I do to end it?


This type of behavior is so irritating! Why do people participate in it? Typically, it’s caused by insecurity; whether the insecurity is a facet of the gossiper’s personality or is created by lack of solid communication from the management team.

Gossips enjoy the power they accrue from being the source of information. Their self-esteem gets a boost from being the go-to person for the inside scoop. If the gossiper attempts to draw you in, be very direct in telling him or her that you aren’t interested in conversations that could be harmful to other people.

As a manager, if the gossiper brings you information about work issues, ask for specifics: When did this happen? Who was involved? What were the exact circumstances?  Take notes. You’ll need to verify and take appropriate action. The gossiper will be hesitant to repeat a story (even it if has a kernel of truth) if it’s obvious that you are going to note and check the details.

Many times gossip flies when management hasn’t shared appropriately with staff. Of course, some things are necessarily kept private, but when it has an impact on the workers or the work they do, good communication will keep the truth at the forefront and the interpretations to a minimum. Your hospital should always share:

  • A clear vision
  • Core values that are clearly expressed and used for running the business
  • Solid processes that are documented
  • An accountability chart that’s complete and up-to-date
  • A system for evaluating each individual’s performance

If management has developed good systems and shared all this information, there is really no soup for the gossip to stir up!

Good luck!

What Would Shawn Do? How to Handle an Abusive Boss


I’m a new receptionist at this hospital, though I was at another clinic for two years before I took this job. The owner-doctor talks down to me in front of clients and other staff, but I’ve never seen him do it to anyone else. He uses a condescending tone, points out my mistakes, and never says one nice thing to me–not even, “Good night!” I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong, or how to handle it. Help!


This is a classic example of allowing other people to affect you negatively, and it’s all excused or justified under the, “He’s the boss,” statement. Remember that we teach people how to treat us.

Confront the doctor (respectfully) about which behaviors are making you uncomfortable and how those behaviors are affecting you and the hospital. Tell the doctor that you want to do a good job and be of service, but you must be respected and not abused or put down in front of your peers.

If you don’t receive an apology and a response that indicates self-awareness and remorse for mishandling the communication, leave that hospital immediately. They don’t deserve you, and they don’t want to change.

Good luck!

What about NOW, Patty? Preserving Relationships with Procrastinators

“I’ll do it later.”

We’ve all heard those four seemingly innocuous words. In fact, you’ve probably uttered them more than once. You might use that phrase to acknowledge a request that you honestly intend to fulfill — later.

Others use the phrase unthinkingly, and it’s void of any substance. Procrastinating Patty, who keeps promising to complete that much-needed report you’ve requested more than once, says it much more than you’d like to hear. She has more than a little bit in common with that teenager who is promising to clean her room for the umpteenth time.

While you have some control over your teenaged kid by way of threatening loss of privileges and free time, you are more limited in the methods you can use to motivate someone at work to get that report done. “Clean your room or move out!” won’t fly at the clinic.

But you have to do something, right? Unfulfilled promises and missed deadlines are annoying and potentially harmful to that person, you, and the clinic.

Who Are These People, Anyway?

You might recognize procrastinators as:

  • Dawdling coworkers
  • Overcommitters — the people who say “yes” to everything
  • Disorganized, unstructured people
  • Decision-makers who drag their feet

So what drives these folks? Some of them procrastinate out of fear, some because they are addicted to the excitement, and others because they can’t be bothered to make a decision. Generally, all of these emotions are rooted in a lack of self-esteem.

Fearful Folks

They don’t want to disappoint you with poor results. They pressure themselves with “You have to” statements and try to be perfect. They resent and resist the authoritarian voices in the workplace, which in turn causes them more stress about being judged and possibly fired. This type of procrastinator is highly self-critical and rarely, if ever, acknowledges when he or she is doing something right.

Excitement Addicts

They need to their feel blood pumping and the adrenaline rush associated with a tight deadline. Cutting it close gives them a thrill.

Decision Avoiders

They don’t want to be held responsible one way or the other. They cite “not enough time” as a reason for avoidance. They defer the decision, and often never make one at all.

Lollygagging is lovely — when on a summer stroll or window shopping — but not when you are prepping for surgery or serving a waiting room full of people! When a co-worker habitually puts things off and constantly avoids responsibility, you are left to pick up the slack.

When she finally does show up to work, late, again, she’s slow to respond to emails, phone calls, and messages. You have to deal with excuses, socializing, web surfing, and clock watching, or long lunches and smoke breaks. Colleagues and employees with this mindset waste not only their time, but yours. It puts you at risk of losing clients — the people who ultimately pay the bills.

If it’s your boss that fails to commit and make decisions, it might result in more responsibility being added to your plate. Decision-avoider bosses don’t want to make waves, so they don’t provide direction to the team. Overcommitter bosses want to be nice and can’t refuse anyone. They promise to do things they don’t agree with or can’t get done, and never follow up.

How to Motivate the Unmotivated

You might think Patty is lazy or lacks pride in and dedication to her work. In reality, she might have too much on her plate. She could need your help prioritizing. Or she could need your guidance and mentoring. If it’s a confidence issue, the fix could be a pep talk to boost her confidence and get her back on track.

To break free from the tyranny of your co-worker’s or employee’s procrastination:

  • Clarify responsibilities. Unclear expectations can throw even the best employee off her game.
  • Help her get organized. This will keep everyone from scrambling to meet crisis-imposed deadlines.
  • Teach her to be punctual. If necessary, impose the “Three Strikes” rule with her: 1. Talk about the problem and what she must do to resolve it. 2. Talk about the problem again in 30 days. 3. Let her go.
  • Make sure there is a back-up plan for her assignments when you know she will be late.
  • Don’t nag. Seriously, who likes a nagger? Nagging will only cause resistance and contribute to the procrastination patterns.
  • Create challenge, excitement, and fun. This will really help the employee who is competent but not challenged.
  • Give options. When given clear options, rather than faced with demands and threats, employees willingly contribute and step it up a notch.

Bosses can’t be perfect. Recognize their weaknesses and give them additional support. To help your boss make a decision:

  • Stop pushing, and lower your level of enthusiasm. Make it easy for her to level with you. Probe with indirect questions.
  • Pay attention to evasive terminology. Make eye contact, and don’t interrupt.
  • Tap into her most compelling desire and tie it into your proposal.
  • Refine the content; don’t give her any more information than she needs to make the decision.
  • Present deadlines for specific tasks.
  • Request regular staff meetings. Review time-prioritized action items. Focus on how lack of productivity cuts into profit.
  • Point out the benefits of change.
  • Listen to what she is saying. She may be afraid to hurt your feelings.
  • Step up to the plate, whatever the reason for your boss’s incompetence. Claim the problem as your own.

No doubt — it’s not easy to work with the folks who just can’t seem to get ‘er done. By using some of the techniques described here, you will minimize the fallout of dealing with people who tend to piddle.