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Human Resources
Jul 1, 2015

How To Have Candid Conversations With “Disengaged” Employees

Sponsored Content provided by Dallas Romanowski - Managing Partner, Cornerstone Business Advisors

A few years ago I was asked by a client to coach an employee who was not demonstrating his potential or supporting his company’s culture. The coaching engagement was a bit unusual because most of our leadership coaching focuses on “star” employees or ones with high potential. The employee's manager hoped the coaching would motivate the employee to buy into the culture and become a high performer.

While we’ve had success doing this in the past, I could tell it wouldn’t work this time. In fact, I told the guy that if I were he, I would quit (which he eventually did). However, the initial conversation with him came across as dramatic. He couldn’t believe I would be so candid, but I knew the employee wanted to do something else and there wasn’t upward mobility at the company for his skill set. You don’t show a person any dignity by telling him or her to stay in a job that they’re not suited for or won’t be happy in.

Personally, I would rather absorb the organizational complication of figuring out how to fill a role instead of keeping an employee in a role in which he or she will just drift by. The employee will be better off somewhere else, and the organization also will benefit from the change. Helping employees achieve their personal visions inside or outside your organization will help team members think about what’s really important to them. Continuously doing this will ensure that you have a team that’s passionate about the company and will put in the extra effort to make something extraordinary happen.

Zappos has an amazing policy I wish all businesses could afford. When Zappos hires you, it gives you an offer letter and right after you sign it, the manager hands you a three-month salary package to quit the job you just took. The offer stands for the entire first year. What Zappos knows is that it costs an organization too much to have employees drift. The leaders cannot afford to lead a team with people who don’t WANT to be there, people who are actively sabotaging internal energy, even if it’s not on purpose. 

If you’re a leader and know there are people on your team who are not operating at a high rate of efficiency or productivity, you may not have the right people on your team. However, don’t just assume the issue is with the employee. Ineffective managers can be the root cause of employee issues. 

I think the most important thing is to realize that holding on to your lackluster employees could be keeping you from hiring the employees you need. You could also be keeping employees from opportunities that await them. The people you are leading are likely moms and dads first. They are people who had dreams of what they wanted to do when they grew up. So if they’ve gotten to this place in their lives where they are unproductive or in a funk, your job as their leader is to not necessarily manage the position they have, but to lead them as individuals, even if that means leading them out of their current positions.

We developed the Performance Culture web-based performance management platform to help leaders have these “crucial conversations” with employees and managers. To learn more, visit

The Cornerstone Business Advisors team includes former C-Level executives, successful entrepreneurs and advisors who offer unmatched experience in delivering advanced, custom-tailored, results-oriented solutions for business leaders. Cornerstone has worked with hundreds of companies that range from fast-growth start-ups to Fortune 500 corporations. It developed the Performance Culture System™ to help clients implement best practices and drive high performance throughout their organization. For more information, visit or email [email protected].

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