How to Address Staff That Are Dragging the Chain

Finding the right staff is notoriously difficult.

And it’s tough when they start dropping the ball and clients begin to ask questions.

So how do you get around it?

I had the pleasure of speaking to Jocko Willink on the podcast recently.

Jocko Willink is a world-renowned author, podcaster, motivator and consultant, after years servicing the US Navy Seals.

Jocko has received the Silver Star and Bronze Star for his service in the Iraq war, and was commander of SEAL Team Three’s Task Unit Bruiser during the Battle of Ramadi. He had multiple teams out on the battlefield, with bullets coming from all directions, and he was in charge of it all.

It’s safe to say, Jocko has learned a thing or two about getting his “troops” into line when he needs to:

“Well, this is absolutely one of the hardest things that leaders have to do…how do we make it easier? How do we make it smoother? How do we do that as a leader? Well, the first thing we have to do is have the hard conversations earlier. So if I’m working with you, I might say, ‘Hey, I noticed that you’re not meeting the timeline on your projects. And what we’re trying to do is get things done and show our clients that we can deliver on time, and you’re not doing it.’

Jocko says it’s best to approach the situation like this:

“What I have to do is say, ‘Hey, I noticed that you were late on that last project. And I just want to make sure that I gave you the support that you needed because we deliver on time. That’s one of the things that we tout being able to do, and we failed to do it. And so I want to make sure that you understand that and make sure that I’m giving you everything you need to get this done.'”

Jocko says staff can’t be upset when a leader takes this approach:

“What that’s doing is giving you a heads up. You can’t be mad at me for saying that to you. I’m actually trying to offer you support! I’m trying to say, ‘How can I help you?’ And at the same time, I’m giving you a pretty clear indication that being on time for us is really important. And so hopefully by having this relatively easy conversation and actually also a positive conversation, I move you in the right direction where you say,’ OK, yeah, you know what? I realized I was a little bit late. Hey, you know what? I get it. There’s a couple of things I can tighten up. Maybe I could use this support from you and I say, ‘OK, great, I’ll give you because I want us to finish on time. I want to win.’ So maybe that helps you. “

Jocko admits it doesn’t always stop there. So he has to keep going:

“Maybe you’re late again. And now I might need to come to you and say, ‘Hey, this is the second time that your piece of the project has been late. And last time I asked you if you needed the support, I gave you what you asked for, and now you’re still late with the project completion. And we just can’t do that. And I’m not going to tell you right now, this is something that you absolutely have to fix. You understand what I’m saying? Do you understand how important this is? And, you know, at this point, you say, ‘OK, yeah, I get it, hey, I’m sorry.’ And maybe you make some adjustments and maybe now you start finishing projects on time and you’re putting in the extra work and you’re staying late when you have to and you’re getting it done, which is great. That’s what we want. That’s we hope for…but maybe you don’t.”

And what if that employee still doesn’t deliver?

“Now the next project comes along and you miss the deadline again. And now I’m going to probably say, “Hey, I’m thinking that maybe this position isn’t for you. And I’m thinking maybe as a leader here, you don’t understand how important this is. And I’m trying to think if either, A, I can find a different role for you, that doesn’t require you to meet timelines because I like your creative side. Or B, maybe you need to find another place to work because this isn’t the environment that suits you.’ And now you say: ‘Oh, no, Jocko, this is it. Oh, I’m sorry. I can definitely turn things in on time,’ and you make solid adjustments and you change, right? Or you don’t change. And if you don’t change, we both know what’s coming.

Firing Staff: How to have the Hard Conversation Properly

Jocko says for a lot of leaders, what makes it hard to fire people is when you haven’t given them the right leadership and counseling along the way:

When I fail to do those things and then I walk in and I now have to fire you, of course I’m going to feel guilty because I know I didn’t do a good job as a leader. But if I’ve given you the clear expectations, if I’ve given you the course corrections, the corrective measures that you need to take in order to be on the team — if I’ve tried to build a relationship with you, told you the things that I will do to support you, if I’ve done all those things for you and you still have decided not to perform or you’re incapable of performing well, then it becomes crystal clear.”

Jocko says that’s when a leader must think about his other staff members and the overall mission they share:

“My loyalty to the team, and to the mission now trumps my loyalty to you, who has been slacking and is now going to be terminated. That’s what you have to do. I call it the escalation of counseling. You have to talk to people, start off in a gentle way and then escalate as they fail to perform.


For my full podcast interview with Jocko Willink, take a listen via this link.

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