If you do find yourself in a position when you need to let an employee go - for whatever reason - it helps if you already have "bench strength." This refers to a philosophy of hiring where you identify strong candidates before you need them. That way, you can hire proactively, instead of reactively.
Building Bench Strength
A lot of companies hire based on immediate need. If someone leaves or is let go, then the reaction is to write a job description, advertise the position, contact the best applicants, and hire someone to take on the vacant role. This is reactive hiring instead of proactive hiring. When you hire reactively you only find people who are actively looking for work - people who need a job. You might find someone good but, more often than not, you only find someone who is simply available.
On the other hand, if you target your key roles and are always looking for people to fill those roles, you can hire proactively. You keep a list of prime candidates who are capable of filling the role. Build relationships with them early on and stay in touch. This creates bench strength. Then, when you need to fill a role, you can choose from the best…from those that you've pre-selected rather than hoping that good people just fall out of the sky.
Why Does Bench Strength Matter?
Imagine you own a sports team. If your head coach leaves do you want to be left in the cold looking for a new coach? Or would you rather have a list of coaches in waiting with whom you've built long-term relationships and had on your "want list" for a while? Proactively you'll know in advance who can run your team successfully?
The most successful leaders have a talent pipeline in place to fill their key positions, regardless of when those positions need to be filled. Your pipeline should include both internal and external candidates. This gives these leaders the flexibility to make changes when they need to - without missing a beat.
Building bench strength also helps you to make sure that your team is always stocked with the best talent. If you keep a pipeline of top-tier talent, you can constantly assess your current leaders. Ask yourself "Would I hire the same person for that same job today? Are they still living up to the requirements of the current position scope?"
If your answer to the above questions is "no" then ask yourself if you can coach them to meet the demands of their role. Can good training improve their performance or do you need to shuffle your line-up and choose a new person for the role? Is there another role in the organization that they might fill effectively?
It is the leader's role to help people develop and grow in an organization. A leader must continuously observe and evaluate the talent and attitudes of team members. If certain team members cannot make the cut regardless of coaching, then call someone up from your bench - that is, people who own the team as well as those who may not yet be part of the team but who are ready willing, and able to exceed expectations with their performance.