I've written before about what you can do to ensure that the talent you hire is of the highest quality--but, inevitably, a bad apple will slip through despite your best intentions. What happens then? Must you summarily fire every bad apple and move on?

Not always. Once someone has been flagged as a poor performer, the burden is on you to identify what's gone wrong. Is there lack of work ethic and appreciation for your company values? Is there a lack of skills? Is the employee simply in the wrong job? How you answer these questions will determine your course of action.

So how can you figure out what's missing--and what do you do next?

First, you need to document the situation. Organize and explain your thoughts about why this employee is a bad apple. You will need to have documentation to corroborate your rationale should you end up needing to let the person go. List specific events or occurrences wherever possible.

Next, present your feedback to the employee. And don't just tell them that their performance or attitude isn't up to expectations; offer concrete suggestions for how to improve. Put yourself in their shoes: They've just started at a new office, working with new people, and if something isn't going right, they need an immediate way to salvage their opportunity with the company. And it has to happen right away--not at the old-fashioned 90-day review. Feedback is not an on/off event, it's a process. (Honestly, you should be dispensing bits of feedback every day after a new employee joins the team.) Now step back, and see how your feedback is received. This is the tricky part. This is how you will be able to gauge whether your so-called bad apple is truly bad or simply needs help.

Don't accept an employee who scoffs at your comments and rejects your suggestions. If you see no effort or willingness to improve, then wait no further. The worst thing a leader can do is tolerate this kind of bad apple. Problems with work ethic, bad attitudes, or poor fits with your company culture are more important than skills. These things represent a fungus that spreads to all your other apples. Your entire workforce will be watching to see how you respond, and if you don't react quickly, your judgment will be called into question. Waste no more time, and escort these folks to the door.

But do accept responsibility. If your constructive criticism is met with an honest acceptance of facts and a sincere desire to perform well, then stop and reflect on what the root of the issue really is--because it could be something you've done (or haven't done). After all, you invested time and money in hiring this person. You saw something in them that made you think hiring them was the right decision. Perhaps they shine in areas related to teamwork and attitude, but seem to lack the skills needed to perform well. You put them in the position, so you owe these folks an opportunity to prove they have what it takes. Set weekly or bi-weekly milestones for improvement. Let these employees know that you will be watching--and, more importantly, that you will be available for help and to hear their feedback as well. Ultimately, if they cannot fit that specific position's skill requirements, but do have a great fit with your team, you might be able to find them a new role.

Company leaders should never tolerate those negative employees whose attitudes and behaviors poison the workplace well. But to instantly fire poor performers without first understanding why they have problems and offering opportunities for improvement and redemption can potentially be a waste of your hiring investment--or even a loss of quality talent that was simply misplaced or got off to a rough start. Make the effort to get the story straight, so you can keep your "orchard" as healthy as possible.

Published on: Apr 2, 2015
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