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Rehabilitate or Release

Rehabilitate or Release

By: Ross Paterson

Underperforming Employees – Part 3

In a talk to MBA students at Stanford University in the 90’s, Jack Welch emphasized the need for leaders to let people know where they stand. Especially the people that are in the bottom 10% of an organization. Not with a hatchet, but an extended conversation that has the goal of helping them find a career where they can win.

“Not having differentiation is the cruelest form of management.”
Jack Welch, Legendary CEO of General Electric

After a round of informal feedback with an underperformer (Steps 1 and 2, see previous blog), Xtra Mile leaders must raise the stakes with a formal conversation and process.

Step 3: PREPARE FOR A TOUGH CONVERSATION. The leader will be more stressed about this conversation than the employee. Preparation is the key for effectiveness. Make it a discussion about performance, not an indictment. The best outcome will be a re-engaged employee; an indictment will only create resentment. Make the last step in preparation a practice run with a trusted advisor or even your spouse.

Step 4: FORMAL CONVERSATION, ROUND ONE. At this point in the process, we can’t afford to be foggy, or nice, or ‘falsely kind’ as Jack Welch calls it. At the end of the conversation, the employee must understand that the two options are either rehabilitate or release. Three keys to a successful round one conversation:

  1. Be specific about problems and outcomes, then BE QUIET, and listen to their response. The first things they say will be an indicator of what direction the process takes.
  2. Once you see an adult take responsibility for a problem, immediately move on to the solution. If a turnaround happens, never bring it up again.
  3. Collaboratively create the improvement plan. Let them know you want them to win and are committed to help.


The next day, put the conversation in writing. Have your employee proofread and approve the ‘get better’ plan, make any adjustments, then both of you sign and date the document. Emphasize that this is a 90 day process and you will be evaluating progress again in 30 days.

What do you think the response will be? Tune in next week to find out.

Up next: Underperforming Employees – Part 4