When Do You Get Rid of a High Performer Who Has Gone Off the Rails?


There is nothing worse in HR than having to terminate a high performer.

If you’re in the game long enough you will eventually end up facing this situation: A high performer does something incredibly stupid, and even though everyone in the organization wants to keep him or her, you all know they have to go.

Nothing sucks more.

I’ve seen executives in very large companies almost lose their own jobs because they tried to save a high performer from getting fired. We like to think only idiots and low performers get fired, but something really good performers will get fired because of bad circumstances.

One high performer who went off the rails

For instance, take the case of Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict and his illegal and dangerous hit on Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown in this month’s NFL playoff game in Ohio:

Let’s be clear: I’m not a fan of either team, just an observer, but he could have killed Antonio Brown!

OK, it’s one bad hit, one bad choice. You don’t fire a person over that, especially a person of Burfict’s talent. He might be the single biggest reason Cincinnati made the NFL playoffs this year.

Herein lies the problem: Despite how great of a performer Vontaze Burfict is, he has one major issue that the Bengals and the NFL can’t ignore. It seems like he truly wants to injure other players!

Burfict now has a “history” of trying to hurt opposing players with questionable and illegal hits. He was fined by the NFL to the tune of $169,000 in the 2015-2016 season alone. His hit on Antonio Brown will probably cost upwards of million dollars in fines and lost game wages!

So, what do you do?

How do you handle something like this?

It’s something the Cincinnati Bengals are going to have to determine. They can’t keep Burfict and have him continue to do this. It’s not good for the franchise or the team’s brand (although some will argue it actually might help their brand).

In the NFL, you need white hats and black hats! Not everyone can be the good guys.

Here’s the problem you face if you’re the Bengals leadership: If you allow Vontaze Burfict to continue to play, Burfict will do what Burfict does, which is play dirty. He’s proven that with his actions. His past performance has shown you what his future performance will be!

This won’t come back on Burfict. No, it will come back on other players on the Bengals team, more than likely a highly skilled offensive player like a quarterback or wide receiver. Burfict will go out and hurt his next victim, and the other team will eventually retaliate against some Cincinnati player. The Bengals risk this if they keep Burfict around.

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Sometimes, you need to let them go

Great performer. One major career derailer.

It sucks to have to let a great performer go, but many times, it’s the best thing to do for the over health and well being of the organization.

It never ceases to amaze me, though, at what some in the organization will do to keep that risk around.

This was originally published on Tim Sackett’s blog, The Tim Sackett Project.