The Three Strike Rule

“One more quarter and I’m sure he’ll manage to meet his goal.” That was the response I received when I asked at the quarter meeting of an organization I was advising, why a problematic salesperson was still employed. I’d asked this question a few times over the preceding months and gotten the same answer.

For reasons beyond me, the president was working hard to turn someone who had demonstrated again and again that they had zero sales aptitude or knowledge into a super salesperson. And the goal the salesperson kept missing was about half what it should have been.

In addition to his sales failure, he rarely exhibited the values the company claimed to live by. And yet, there he still was.

This happens again and again. Some managers want to fix poor performers and bad culture fits. And they’ll spend an inordinate amount of their and others’ time working on these fixes.

Meanwhile the company suffers with low productivity, morale problems, unhappy customers, lost customers. And everyone wondering behind the manager’s back about the pictures the poor performer must have.

There are a few reasons why managers have difficulty firing poor performers. One is that they think that this will upset other employees. On the contrary, most of your employees will be glad they’re gone. No one likes to do extra work because there’s a slacker; no one likes to tolerate someone who doesn’t live up to company values.

Another reason is that managers simply don’t know how to fire someone. They can’t bring themselves to tell the truth to the poor performer.

Good managers give a poor employee the opportunity to improve. But this opportunity comes with clear expectations of specific things to fix, specific goals to meet, and a set date for accomplishing these goals and meeting these expectations.

I recommend the 3- strike rule, which works as follows:

  • Current poor performance is Strike 1
  • The poor performer is given 30 days to meet specific 30-day improvement goals
  • Failing to meet these goals = Strike 2. The poor performer has one more chance to show they can make it. Specific 30-day improvement goals are set once again.
  • Failure again = Strike 3. And you’re out. Or in the words of work, sent packing.

Even if the poor performer is a wonderful person who actually lives the company values, they’re still out. Unless you’re a charity, you must be willing to tell those who are failing to move on for the good of the company, and the rest of your crew.

You’re not doing anyone any favors keeping a poor performer around. Not your other people and not the poor performer. In fact, by showing them the door you are giving them the chance to find a new place where they fit in well and have the opportunity to be successful.

Your customers will thank you. Your employees will breathe a sigh of relief, and your ability to become more successful will improve. When you have a team where each and every person is the right person in the right seat…everything gets better.

Be open and honest. Be willing to give poor performers a chance using the 3 Strike rule. And then if you must, be tough.

Commenting area

  1. While interviewing new employees I always tell them about the 3T rule. Train, Tolerate, Terminate. Then I tell them there will be as much training as needed – once the training stops I let them know I have a very low tolerance level so they could expect termination after that.

  2. STEVE SMOLINSKY December 12, 2017 at 1:52 pm · · Reply

    Rick, like your thinking about this. Give them the training they need…and management, and then some time to show you they can perform, and if not….

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