Guiding Unengaged Employees in Doing What's Right for Them

What do you do when an employee doesn't want to be in the job they're in?


Hank Fortener, founder of Adopt Together, talks frankly about building the right teams with the right people. While it may not be easy to have candid conversations with “disengaged” employees, Hank imparts that it is exactly these conversations that define great leaders and engage and inspire employees. 

I told a guy that if I was him, I would quit last week and he just he resigned on Friday the 13th. That was like so dramatic. You don't have to do that. But I just said, "Hey, I don't think there's upward mobility for you here. I know what you want, and it's not here. So if I were you, I would quit." And I'm his direct overseer. Because to me it's like you don't do a person any kind of dignity by telling them to stay in a job that they're not suited for or that you know they're not going to be happy in.

I would rather absorb the organizational complication of going, "How do we will fill this guy's role? How do we do it?" But I wanted to be really clear like, "Hey man, I know what you want, and it's not here. So I think you should quit. If I were you, that's exactly what I would do." He's like, "No. I don't know. I don't know." I said, "Hey think about it. But we'll keep you. I'm not firing you. We'll keep you as long . . . it's low impact on us for you to stay and sort of drift in where you are right now. But there's more for you and it's just not here. We're just not organizationally designed to enhance your gifts and I'd go." I think any good manager, any great leader would go, "You need to quit as soon as possible."

My favorite story is about Zappos when they hire you, and I could get some of the numbers wrong, so don't quote me totally on the numbers. When they hire you, they give you an offer letter. You sign it. The very second you sign it and they receive it back, they hand you a three month salary package to quit. Three months salary, benefits, everything to quit the job that you just took. You haven't worked a day at the company. They go, "This offer stands for the entire first year." What they know is that it costs an organization so much to have employees drift, because they just drift, and what good leaders know is, "I've got to get the wrong people out of here. I've got to get the people who don't want to be here anymore, the people who are actively sabotaging our internal energy, even if it's not on purpose, it's just happening because they are in entropy or they are on drift."

So we instituted that multiple times in multiple places where everybody I oversee, I always say, "Hey, I want to offer them six weeks salary to quit, and I want to make that offer to them once a year." I want to know you're not here because you're stuck, or you're not here because you feel like there's no other options. You're here because what we're doing is absolutely essential both for me to be a part of and for the world.

Yeah. So if you're watching this and you're a leader and you know there's people on your teams who are not operating at high efficiency, they're not highly productive, they're not the people on your team where you go, "Yeah, this guy wakes up every morning and can't wait to get to this job." You know they're either drifting, or they're entropy, or you know that their eyes are looking elsewhere. They're getting restless in the job they're in.

I think the most important thing to do is to realize that holding them longer than they should stay could be keeping you from the employee that you need and could be keeping them from the opportunity that waits ahead of them. So the people you're leading, they're moms and dads first. They're people who were kids who had dreams of having jobs. They wanted to do things when they were growing up. So if they've gotten to this place in their life and they are unproductive or they're inefficient or they're just sort of like you can tell they're in a funk, you get to work and you just know they're in a funk, your job as their leader is not necessarily to manage the position they have, but your job as a leader is to lead them as individuals, even if that means leading them out of the current position that they do have.

Hank Fortener

Hank Fortener is the founder of Adopt Together, a non-profit, crowdfunding platform that bridges the gap between families who want to adopt and the children who need loving homes. He is also Pastor at MOSAIC in Los Angeles and is the ...

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