What if you were faced with firing one of your top performers? Not because they weren't performing. Not because they broke a law. But because they were destroying your company's culture from the inside out.

Would you know it was the right decision, or would you or other people question your thinking? Would your company survive such a loss? I've faced such a challenge three times in my career, and it was one of the hardest, most difficult decisions to make.

I knew what I needed to do, but I was haunted by a little voice inside of my head. The voice made it so easy to look the other way or think of excuses when a high performer was behaving in a manner that was incongruent with some or many of the principles of our culture.

Excuses like, "Oh it's not that bad. It's just how they are. Most times they behave. It's just every now and then. They are the exception. Everybody else gets it so what does one outlier matter? My company will fail if I lose their production." I always had an excuse ready, and you probably do too.

You know there's a problem. It's gut check time.

Create a Replacement From Within

You get it. You know what culture is, and you understand how powerful it is in driving or restraining your organizational performance.

You can see it. You believe in and are acting to generate a peak performance culture by standing for certain behaviors.

When you make the decision to fire a top performer, you are left with a tangible void and you will need to figure out a way to begin to fill it. The following activity will help you figure out who can help fill the void.

Imagine a two by two matrix with the "Y" axis labeled performance and the "X" axis labeled culture alignment. Now use this four-pane window to view your coworkers and staff:

1. Low performers who don't reflect your culture

In the bottom left quadrant put the names of your low performers who are also not living the principles of your desired culture. Then arrange for their good leaving.

2. Low performers who do reflect your culture

In the bottom right quadrant put the names of your low performers who are committed to living the principles of your desired culture.

There's an opportunity to invest in training intended to enhance their performance. Performance can often be a trained skill. Choosing to stand for your desired culture is a personal choice. So they are worthy of a measured investment.

If they respond to training and performance increases, it's all good. If performance does not increase and there is no better "fit" for them in the company, managing them out may be best for all.

3. High performers who are "culture mavens"

In the top right quadrant put the names of your high performers who are also culture mavens. They produce at extraordinary levels, while being the gold standard of your desired culture.

The opportunity is straightforward and easy. Give them what they need. They are the critical few carrying your company forward. They stand for the principles of your desired culture, while producing extraordinary outcomes. They are the highest "future value" people on the payroll.

4. High performers who aren't behaving well

In the upper left quadrant put the names of your high performers who are not behaving in a manner that is congruent with the principles of your desired culture. These are the folks who are awesome at business development or money matters or operations, but they blame others, don't listen to feedback, and are caustic when giving feedback to others.

They gossip and use information as the currency of power. And did I mention that they are extremely high producers?

What to do? Make clear to them your expectations regarding behavior and alignment to culture, but don't expect much to change. Their ways of being are typically hard wired and changing that will require personal transformation. The stakes must be extremely high for people to take on their own stuff.

If you blink on this and rationalize their behavior to protect their production, you have abdicated your responsibilities of causing a peak performance culture, and it will be one of the most costly decisions you make. You need only look to Uber or Wells Fargo to see what happens when you make excuses or turn a blind eye to top performers' actions at the expense of culture.

Looking back at the three times I faced this situation, I'm grateful I acted in a manner congruent with our stated company culture. In each case we were stronger for doing what was right.

Published on: Aug 18, 2017
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