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Fire Away

Molly Rowe, Senior Editor, Leadership, November 9, 2007

A California hospital came under attack last week for firing 13 nurses in the last three months. Four of the fired nurses were long-time employees, and eight had more than 20 years of nursing experience. I don't know the ins and outs of this particular situation (these nurses may have been great caregivers) but the article brings to light one of management's biggest downsides: Firing people.

Firing people is never easy, unless you're Donald Trump. Most CEOs say termination is one of the hardest parts of their jobs, and some managers just won't do it. They figure firing bad employees only hurts morale, creates staffing shortages, and puts them at risk for lawsuits.

A growing number of healthcare leaders, however, argue that weeding people out makes for better business. For a November story in HealthLeaders magazine, I spoke to several senior leaders who regularly assess employee performance and get rid of low performers.

The term "low performer" doesn't necessarily refer to basic competence. A low performer could be a careful clinician with a bad attitude or a long-time senior leader who is unwilling to adjust his style to an organization's strategic plan.

As one of my sources, Roddey Gettys, CEO of Palmetto Health Baptist Easley, told me, "Low performers are the ones who suck the life out of the rest of the employees. They are the habitual complainers, whiners, moaners, groaners. Their work performance is affected by their attitude and it tends to rub off."

Quint Studer is the king of weeding people out--not because he's a bad guy or a particularly harsh boss but because he believes leaders should spend more time improving middle performers and keeping high performers than disciplining bad ones. Founder and president of the Studer Group, Studer is a former hospital manager who coaches hospital leaders.

He says about 8 percent of hospital employees are low performers. That may be a small number of employees at some organizations but these few low performers have a broad reach. They eat up management time and bring other employees down. Middle performers are frustrated (they want do better but don't know how), and high performers feel resentful.

Studer isn't really just about firing people--that's the last resort--but he trains managers to focus their energies on middle and high performers, thereby isolating the low. Through this process, Studer says, about one-third of low performers will improve, one-third will self-select out, and one-third will need to be let go.

The point Studer makes (and what many managers miss) is that, while firing people makes even the most seasoned boss sweat, it is actually fair for other employees. Processes will be more efficient, employee satisfaction will go up, and managers have more time to focus on doing business.


Molly Rowe is leadership editor with HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at mrowe@healthleadersmedia.com.

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