When Should You Set Someone Free?

I often have conversations with servant leadership clients about how to effectively assess an employee’s performance, and build appropriate action plans for their development. I encourage the utilization of a tool called the Performance-Values Matrix.

Performance – Values Matrix

The Performance-Values Matrix is a graph introduced to me by the Ken Blanchard Companies to help evaluate employees. It encourages leaders to evaluate people both on how well they perform the technical functions of their job, as well as how they emulate the values of the organization. Both are equally important! Use it faithfully and you will build a “dream team”, and move your team toward your desired culture.

At times you will have an employee in the high performance/low values quadrant. Traditionally this is the most challenging employee situation to deal with. You may think that without their work, the organization might take a step back. But in reality, keeping these people on the team will gradually deteriorate your desired culture and morale. Then good folks will start to drift and leave.

Steps for Setting An Employee with Misaligned Values Free

After some years of being tenuous in this area, here is how I encourage you to deal with these individuals:

Ensure that you have clearly articulated values and associated expected behaviors behind each value.
Your values and behaviors must be well documented and communicated to everyone in the organization. People cannot be expected to perform to behaviors that they are unfamiliar with. Therefore this foundational work rests on your shoulders to ensure everyone knows how they are expected to behave.
Use your organization’s values and behaviors as the funnel for all actions and decisions.
Once you have these values and behaviors well documented, it is no longer about opinion. Instead, everyone is equally evaluated against the same set of standards. This makes dealing with low values individuals much easier! It is your job to be a good steward of the values.
Live as a model of these values and behaviors.
The values and behaviors in the organization must be seen in action from their leaders. If you are not modeling the values, your ability for holding people accountable breaks down. Therefore it is up to you to be the living billboard for the organization’s values.
Have a specific, documented conversation with the individual(s) in question.
Outline the expectations necessary to bring their behavior in line with the values and behaviors. Be very clear on what good performance on values looks like, the timeframe they have to improve, and the specific consequences if they don’t. And be sure they know the final consequence will be an exit from the organization.
Celebrate the win if they improve!
Continue to help them stay in line with their new behavior and positively recognize them for their improved actions. Let them know how much the organization is benefitting from their improvement in this area.
Without change, lovingly set them free – quickly.
By failing to make the necessary changes, it becomes their choice to leave the organization; people fire themselves. At that point, “Share them with the competition”. There is a place for everyone in this world, but not a place for everyone within your organization. Only those that exhibit the organization’s values and behaviors get the opportunity to be on your team.

The Results

I will absolutely guarantee, if you stay true to this practice you will accelerate your progress towards your desired culture. You will move closer to having the dream team that is required to win. And, the rest of your team will thank you for having the courage to address these issues.

Do you have someone on your team that doesn’t align with your organization’s values? What steps do you need to take today to start moving things in the right direction?

“And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons.” Matthew 21:12


Mark W. Deterding
Mark W. Deterding
MARK Deterding is an author, speaker, consultant, executive coach and the founder of Triune Leadership Services, LLC. His purpose is to work with leaders to help them develop core servant leadership capabilities that allow them to lead at a higher level and enable them to achieve their God-given potential. He has written two books, A Model of Servant Leadership, and Leading Jesus’ Way. With over three decades of experience directing companies and developing leaders, Mark created A Model of Servant Leadership parallel to the principles that Jesus himself illustrated. Working with organizations, leadership teams, and executives one-on-one, he helps bring focus, clarity, and action to make things work. He also conducts training programs to teach faith-based servant leadership principles. His greatest passion is seeing the impact servant leadership has on people’s lives and beyond. Prior to Triune Leadership Services he worked for 35 years in the printing industry holding senior leadership positions at Taylor Corporation, RR Donnelly, and Banta Corporation. He is an accomplished executive with a proven track record for developing purpose-driven; values based teams that drive culture improvement, enhanced employee passion, and improved business results. He is featured in Ken Blanchard’s book “Leading at a Higher Level”, and has been a featured speaker for the Ken Blanchard Companies Executive Forum in both 2007 and 2011. Mark lives in Alexandria, Minnesota with his wife Kim. They have two sons, two daughter-in-laws, and three grandchildren, so far. To find out more about Mark and his work, visit Triune Leadership Services via the Link adjacent his Photo above.

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  1. Mark, certainly many leaders fall short of defining and communicating what is expected in the “non-skill” standards of the company. Many others delegate that to HR and wash their hands of it.

    However, If I had to identify the most common error it would be the avoidance of having that unpleasant conversation and then the act of termination when needed. Too often these two chores are put off for too long to the detriment of all.

    • Ken, I agree. I have certainly seen the same thing. I believe heavily in the mantra of “what you allow in your presence as a leader, becomes the rule of your command”. So as you say, if you put this hard work off, and turn your head the other way to poor behaviors, you are in essence telling your organization that those behaviors are OK and you will never get to your desired culture. And to your point, a detriment to all!

      Thanks for your insightful comments!


      • Mark,
        You’re right about “what you allow in your presence.”
        When I first began insisting on compliance with the high bar I set it seemed magical how after a few instances of being insistent the resistance melted away and I not only saw greater compliance, there also seemed to be a sense of relief from many that the rules were clear.
        Thank you for your comments.

  2. The biggest problem with strategies is they tend to be too narrow. The life cycle for areas: grow, cut, align, sustain each have their own optimal behaviors. To avoid the myocardial infarction from continuous changes in culture we need to promote behaviors common to the full life cycle. And that is extremely “political” hard to do.

    • Chris you are exactly right, the key is to have well articulated expected behaviors for the full life cycle so that people know what is expected. That is definitely some heavy lifting up front, but makes things easier down the line. Then if people choose to not exhibit those behaviors they are in a sense opting out on their own. But it is imperative for leaders to set them free once they choose to opt out. Thanks so much for your additional thoughts!