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When a Good Employee is No Longer a Good Fit

Mike: Hey everyone, I’m Mike Sullivan. Thanks for joining me. Today with us is our subject matter expert from Lendio. Typically, we have Brock Blake here. Today we have with us the President and COO, Levi King. Levi’s going to talk to us today about some experiences he’s had with the uncomfortable subject of letting people go. There are different circumstances that lead to this. Levi’s going to talk to us about some of those and some of his learnings over the years. So Levi, thanks for joining us and over to you.


Levi: Today, I want to just give a few pieces of advice. When I say advice, obviously in business there are a lot of times you can do things right or wrong, but there are a lot more scenarios where there are two or three or more ways to do something right and just as many ways to do it wrong. Anyone who ever gives me advice in business I typically try to look at it through the lens of how relevant is that to what I do. So that’s my disclaimer before I give any advice on this topic.

But there’s oftentimes in business where as your business grows, things change, your needs change that sometimes you need to change staff, and some staff members that have done well over time all of a sudden aren’t the best match for what you need to do moving forward or their role has shifted and now there are different needs. I recently went through an experience like that. It’s typically painful on both sides.

A lot of times when you terminate someone or you tell them it’s time to move, it’s easy because they screwed up, they did something dumb, they never succeeded. But it’s a lot harder when it’s someone who has been around awhile, who’s contributed on multiple levels, has been in different positions, and just simply is either burned out and maybe they do or they don’t know what or when the business needs have shifted and so the skill set or the knowledge that that individual has is just not a good fit anymore.

So that’s what we went through recently. We had a couple employees that have been around, one for four years and another one for two and a half almost three years, and our business model has evolved to where we don’t charge borrowers anything. So we have a two sided platform. Business owners come in. They’re looking for a business loan. We match them to lenders and other banks, credit unions, anybody that’s a direct commercial lender, we match them together so that that business owner can get a loan.

So in the past, we sold things to those business owners. Now we don’t. So we had to take not just in sales but sales, customer service, any positions that surrounded servicing a borrower and had to say, “Okay, now that our business model has changed, where do our needs change?” With a couple of those employees that had been around for a long time and done a great job, there was no longer a position that was an exact fit for their skill set.

So that’s kind of a painful time on both sides, and it’s difficult as the employer to communicate, “We need to let you go, but you’re not garbage. And you didn’t even necessarily screw up, we just changed. We had good intentions along the way, and we told you there would be opportunity. But we just can’t figure out what that opportunity is, so we need to part ways.” I think that the lessons that I’ve learned both just this last couple weeks but over time as it relates to letting people go that in that scenario, when again there’s not necessarily anything wrong with them, is that I should be more careful in advance and not say we’ll find a place for you.

As the business needs shift or as our business model shifts and there need to be changes, just not make that commitment, because it’s easy to make it and be sincere, but you can’t predict what you’re going to need when the business model shifts. So it’s logical to say, “We need good people. We need people that work hard, they’re consistent, they like what we do, and they don’t cause problems.” That’s easy and it’s logical. That was kind of the trap for me is to be able to make that commitment to people and say, “Well, it’s logical. We’ll find a place for you.” But not be able to fast forward, and you can never see until you’re in that circumstance when you’re in that shift what exactly you do need and whether there is a good fit or not.

So, like I said, one thing I’ve learned is just to be more careful on commitments like that, just verbal commitments, and two is to not try to put somebody in the wrong box. If they’re round and you want them to fit into a square, it doesn’t matter if you made the commitments or not. If you force somebody into a position that isn’t naturally aligned with their skill sets and what they’re passionate about, they’ll do it to make you happy. They’ll do it maybe because they have other motives, like they want to keep their job, they need the income, they love the company, whatever the case may be. But it’s just not sustainable for someone to work in a capacity that they’re not cut out for. And again, not speaking to that they don’t have high skills or they’re not a great employee, rather they just don’t have the right ones. For someone to be sustainable in a position, if we’re desperate or if we have some external motive, we can motivate ourselves to go through misery for some period of time. But it wears off. If we’re not a fit and if we don’t enjoy it, you won’t find that motivation forever. You’ll look for another job opportunity. You’ll look for a better fit.

So business owners are optimists to a fault typically. That’s why they start businesses, right? We say, “Oh well we can do better or we can make money or we can be successful. We can innovate.” Whatever the case may be, it’s always optimism that drives that. So that optimism is a strength, but it can be a weakness in situations like this where we look at an employee and we say, “Well, they can fit in that square box. I’ll tweak a few things. Maybe I’ll adjust the comp or whatever the case may be to try to make it feel more like it’s round when really it’s square.” But people can’t survive in an environment forever or even for an extended period of time where they’re not naturally aligned to that position. So that’s the mistake is to try to make the commitments and then try to accommodate when I shouldn’t based on rationalizing because the optimist side again that hey I think we can make this work.

The longer that process goes, the more painful it is on both sides, but especially for the employee when you eventually have to let him go because maybe they have under performed or failed per se in that position, but again it’s not because they suck. But no matter how you communicate it, that’s how they’re going to feel. They’re going to feel like, “Go to hell. I was here three years. I kicked butt and you’re saying that I suck and I don’t.” And then it’s a fight. When in reality, there’s just no good way to communicate the business changed and we don’t need you, but there’s nothing wrong with you. I’ll help you find another job, whatever. No matter how good you try to deal with that, it’s not going to feel good to be the employee that has to leave.

Mike: So let me ask this. Is it the right time, someone’s in a position either a new position or like you said the situation changes and your role changes, if it doesn’t feel like the right fit, is that the right time to go to your manager or to go to somebody and say, “Hey look. I don’t think this is working. What can we do?”

Levi: Yeah it’s definitely the right time to bring it up. You always need to be careful to not to be seen as a complainer, right, which if an employer’s in the wrong mind set or if they’re not using their head like they should, they may think that’s what’s happening when in reality they’re not complaining, they’re just looking for a solution. But typically, what I’ve found the challenge is that person that’s in that role, they start to become a victim. So they don’t understand that maybe they’re not performing at the level they’re used to or they would like to because of simply it’s the wrong environment or the wrong job. They start to think something’s wrong.

It’s painful to say I’m the problem. So we as humans, we never want to say that. We want to look for something external and say that’s the problem. The comp plan is wrong. The leads that I have suck, or whatever the case may be in any scenario. We’re looking for something external to blame. So that’s the problem, and then that naturally leads to complaints. So that’s why a lot of times just through the natural progression of it’s painful to say I’m the problem, so I don’t want to say that. So I’m going to look to something external.

Whatever I find externally, that’s the company’s problem. So now I’m not the problem. The company is. So now I start to complain. Usually, I don’t have the guts to go straight to the person I should, so I start to complain to those around me, and now I’m a bad influence and I’m bad for the culture. So this is usually happening in the background. But they don’t understand that there’s not an external problem and they’re not the problem. It’s just a mismatch of person to responsibilities.

So yeah, I would absolutely say talk to your boss. But then to be fair to employees, there are a lot of bosses that are idiots too, right? Or maybe I don’t think I’m an idiot, but there’s plenty of times that I’m in the wrong mind set and I’m just not listening like I should and so maybe it doesn’t go well for the employee. To be fair to them, I make plenty of mistakes too.

Mike: Okay, Levi. It’s a tough topic. I appreciate you taking the time to talk with us about it, and I’ll talk to you soon. Looking forward to it.

Levi: Sounds good, Mike. Appreciate it.

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