How To Let Someone Fire Themselves

Questions can be a mirror


A recent post was about using the “questions only” approach to deal with a problem employee. But what happens when questions aren’t enough, when you need more improvement than you’re getting?

Here’s another real-life example of how to deal with a problem employee. Let me know if you think this intervention went well or not.

The owner and CEO of a marine safety training company told me this story. Their company trains oil rig workers to escape from a helicopter that’s crashed in the ocean, as it capsizes and sinks, and all kinds of other very high intensity marine safety training.

This CEO had a manager who was consistently under-performing. They set clear goals and expectations with each other, but these just weren’t being met. The CEO took the questioning approach to understand what the man thought the problem was. The manager was active in the conversations, seemed to be looking realistically at the situation, said what he would do to change, but nothing changed. He just didn’t seem to have the attitude of accomplishment, of taking the bull by the horns, that a company with as demanding a product requires.

So at their next meeting, the CEO said, “This doesn’t seem to be working. We’ve made these clear goals, and we’ve made them together, and we can both see the goals aren’t being met. The situation isn’t improving. Frankly, I don’t know where to go from here. What do you think I should do next?”

The manager thought a moment, and said, “I think I’m in the wrong place. I should look for another job where I’m a better fit.”

We can’t say the CEO changes the manager’s attitude. Some things won’t change. Not everything is workable. But the CEO solves the problem without any rancor or hard feeling. The manager sees his own strengths and weaknesses for himself, not just as his boss’s opinion of him. He gets a severance package and help with getting another job better suited to his talents. Everyone is happy.

When you reach a dead end with someone, it’s still not too late to let them take initiative for the solution. “What do you suggest I do next?” is a great question.

Is this really just manipulation? Read other opinions here.


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