Not a bad employee, just the wrong career.

Throughout my HR career, I’ve facilitated the firing, or in HR lingo, the “termination” (isn’t it an awful word?) of many “poor performers”.

Some are made to endure a lengthy performance management process, they meet their managers regularly to scrutinise their progress towards KPIs. A small percentage of these people improve their performance, but the majority don’t. Most of those in the non-improving group, take a hit to their self-esteem and find another role, knowing this is what they need to do to avoid getting “terminated” by the company.

The remaining ones in the non-improving group are the poor individuals who suffer a cruel, soul-destroying, confidence-crushing and identity-shattering experience. In Australia, we have strict employment laws, which means this experience often lasts a minimum of 3 months. Unfortunately, this type of experience leaves a traumatic and long-lasting impact on people’s lives.

Organisations aren’t charities, they pay people to perform a job. So what’s the problem? I often wondered what led these people to be in those roles. A role that was so obviously the wrong fit for them, a complete mismatch for their personality, that didn’t leverage their strengths, that didn’t align with their values. It was like fitting a square peg into a round hole — it doesn’t matter how hard you try, you could wear down the corners but it would never be a smooth fit.

It would be unfair to write these people off as simply bad employees, as “poor performers”. They were in the wrong role. A role which didn’t allow them to flourish and offer to their employers what they’re truly capable of. A role which didn’t recognise their potential, a role that left a permanent “poor performer” label on both their company HR file and self-esteem.

What can we do to stop this happening?

It starts with courage. Courage to have an authentic and real conversation with your colleague, or friend, or direct report, or yourself, about the root-cause of the lack-lustre performance, about the opportunities that will arise if the fears are confronted and the current undesired work-circumstances are let go, about strengths instead of failures.

They say employment no longer offers stability — rather it’s the ability to remain employable that’s important. Similarly, a job does not identify us, it’s simply an outfit that’s worn, that will change multiple times throughout life.

Be courageous and confront the fears, find out the reasons for holding on, fears of letting go and reshape these into constructive conversations, and positive actions.