Can I really fire someone for not demonstrating company core values?

Updated: Jan 4, 2019

When it’s not working with an employee it doesn’t necessarily mean they are not competent or skilled in their role. Achieving results shouldn't be the only expectation of an employee, as a disengaged team member can have significant impact on your success as a business. Here's your strategy to identify and resolve disengagement in your team.

Conversation with a disengaged employee, working on engagement and core values

Capability vs. fit

Can I really fire someone for not demonstrating company core values? In short, yes. There are steps that must be taken beforehand, however. What is really important to note is that, for the purposes of this article, we are not discussing an employee who is usually highly engaged and bought-in and has shown short-term signs of disengagement. We are speaking about employees who show disinterest and disengagement consistently, you will know the difference.

As a business you should be looking for a team that are both skilled and engaged, and neither one should have the upper hand on the other. Typically businesses will focus on skill and results, two important measures for performance. What is missing in this assessment is engagement and fit, and no matter how skilled your employee is, disinterest or disengagement with the business will cause bigger problems in the long run, and needs to be resolved.

This is one of the most challenging positions to be in when it comes to an individual, where you have an employee with a lethal combination of good results, skill and knowledge who is disengaged, sour and tends to rebel from organisational direction. The easiest thing to do is ignore the negative behaviours so long as the results keep coming in, and this is what most businesses do.

The prospect of facing the issue, losing the person, the skill, the results just doesn’t seem worth it, and I get that. However, the truth is that the longer that person is in your organisation with this mindset, the more time they have to spread their negativity to others. Their unhappiness with work is unlikely to improve organically and is more likely to decline further over time, and consequently the results won’t last. In the meantime you give the employee time to learn more about your business, systems, processes, clients and become even more indispensable. You need to stop delaying the decision and do the right thing for your business.

Identifying the problem

Sometimes it’s not easy to see what the problem is. Your intuition tells you there’s something not working, but when the employee’s performance is generally good, it’s hard to work out why you feel this way. You need a system to determine whether the issue lies in capability or engagement. A simple test is one I was taught by a previous manager, however I believe was originally published by Max Landsberg in his book The Tao of Coaching, and it is called the Skill/Will Matrix. When you get that unsure feeling about an employee, run their profile through this matrix:

Skill will matrix

Plot on this graph where that meeting point is between their skill, and their will. To determine skill consider their:

  • Ability

  • Knowledge

  • Results

  • Amount of support required to do their role

To measure will consider their:

  • Responsiveness to requests/actions

  • Engagement in meetings or training

  • Engagement with their team and management

  • Punctuality on average

  • Proactivity in solving organisational problems

  • Willingness to take on additional work

  • (If they are a manager) Regularity of team training/development

By doing this exercise you should be able to determine in which area the problem lies. If the intersection lies in the bottom left-hand corner, you may want to consider why this employee was taken on in the first place; if it falls into the top-left hand corner, there is every chance this situation can be transformed through training and development; if the point is top-right, you’re unlikely to have started this exercise (or you may consider your intuition wrong on this one); if it’s bottom right, you’ve identified a character described in the previous section, one who brings in results but is disengaged with the business (high skill, low will).

What do you do with the bottom-right employee?

In my personal experience, it is very difficult to change a person’s will, or level of engagement, unless their arrival in this quadrant is recent (i.e. they usually show high will). Of course the first step is an open and honest conversation with the employee to understand where the issues are. If these are resolvable issues, then everybody is happy, however for employees whose consistent mindset is in this quadrant, usually the problem is more fundamental, and the organisation cannot, and should not, change to fit the employee in this case.

Every organisation should strive to keep employees engaged and happy, but this doesn’t mean bending over backwards to please a single disgruntled employee. If disengagement is apparent across the majority of the workforce, then it may be time to consider change, as the problem is likely to be stemming from the business itself. So long as you (as an organisation) have defined a set of core values, which you sing and stick to, which are clear and honest, then a disengaged employee is one who doesn’t align with your core values, and isn’t a fit for your business.

If you don’t have any documented core values, then here is the place to start. How can employees be meeting your expectations of character if they don’t know them? In EOS® (Entrepreneurial Operating System) defining and living by core values is a key step, and you would use these core values to recruit, terminate, review and reward employees.

Once you have a set of core values, and you are confident your team can parrot them at a moment’s notice, then it comes down to consistency. Part of this process is ensuring that the team know that they will be assessed by core values, and that this assessment will be equally as important as assessment of skill/results. Be clear that failing on these core values will enact a process of improvement and review, and can result in termination. When the message is this clear, there is no excuse for employees to misjudge the importance of organisational core values; they are a must-have for any member of the team.

How to know when it’s time to let go?

As part of EOS implementation, I support businesses with a very tangible set of processes for measuring employees by core values, and establishing a very simple and consistent way to pick up on issues with disengaged team members. Once the person has been established as failing on core values, the process is straight-forward, it’s a 3-strike rule:

  1. Tell them! Make sure your assessment is clear by giving specific examples of behaviour in contrast to these core values and encourage self-assessment. Usually, raising awareness alone will bring any issues to the surface and get them resolved. Set a 30-day deadline to review.

  2. 30-days later, assess and if performance hasn’t improved, feedback assessment results (again with examples) with a 30-day deadline for improvement or highlight the risk of termination.

  3. 30-days later; if improvement is not seen 60 days after initial notice is given, terminate employment (be sure to have discussed with HR the company policies for termination processes and act in accordance with these).

The above may seem harsh, however core values of an organisation are the absolute minimum a business should expect from its employees from a character perspective. Typical core values from teams I’ve worked with include; helpful (to customers and colleagues), client-centric, trustworthy, strong work ethic.  Within EOS, an employee doesn’t necessarily needs to excel at all core values. Ultimately, if these things are being failed upon, is this the type of character you want to represent your organisation? Are they going to succeed within your organisation in the long-term? Are they going to enjoy working with you as a business?

How to make sure you never have to go through this again

The case of the highly skilled, disengaged employee is one of the hardest situations to resolve, and it tends to be a very painful process. However in many cases, the situation could have been avoided if key characteristics (core values) had been determined and communicated early on and used to recruit, terminate, review and reward.

In order to make the above possible, your organisation’s core values should be:

  • In all job specs

  • Tested during the interview process

  • On the company website, in the office, in starter packs, screensavers etc.

  • Announced at company presentations, updates etc.

  • Within performance reviews (both self and manager assessed)

  • Used to reward strong demonstration by employees

  • Used to terminate employees who no longer demonstrate core values

I’d love to hear your feedback about this blog; have you been in this situation with a highly skilled but disengaged employee? What did you do? Would you find the above a useful technique if it were to happen again?

EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System) is used to support entrepreneurial businesses who have had great success, but hit a ceiling. The system supports organisations in creating the structure, processes and mentality to achieve next stage growth. I support small-mid sized businesses implement EOS as a facilitator, which means I help you achieve the right structure, processes and key teachings from EOS and then I step back and let you continue the growth yourselves. To learn more about EOS and how it works, send me an email and say hi!

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