The One Thing You Should Learn from Jack Welch

You are a leader, and you have to make hard decisions.

Jack Welch was often under fire for requiring that his managers fire the bottom 10 percent of their employees every year. The idea that one would remove employees without considering their individual circumstances, their families, and the hardship it would create caused a lot of people to chafe, me among them. I have always believed you retrain or reassigned people before you remove them.

Jack often defended this policy, making the case that it is really cruel to allow someone to believe they were safe only to dismiss them during a downturn, when it would be more difficult for them to find work—and when it would come as a surprise. In that, he isn’t wrong.

The genius isn’t in the cold, calculated decision to fire the bottom 10 percent of your employees every year. I also don’t recall reading stories about the 10,000 GE employees who were let go every year, meaning this policy may have been more honored in its breach. The genius in this policy is that it forced managers to make a decision about what to do with underperforming employees.

I don’t know Mr. Welch, but I don’t believe that he would have any problem with retraining or reassigning people into roles in which they are better equipped to succeed. I am positive he would have no trouble with the idea that you should work with people and do your very best to help them grow and succeed before removing them from your company and your charge. I do, however, believe that the idea that you have to make a decision one way or the other was his real intention.

Too many leaders allow problems—including underperforming employees—to go unaddressed for too long. As a leader, you have to ask yourself, “If I were removed from your role, what would your replacement immediately do to produce better results?” It is the leader’s job to make decisions, even without all the information you need, and even when you can’t be sure.

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Filed under: Leadership

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