How to Keep Good Employees When Their Current Roles Are a Bad Fit

by Lindsay Witcher, director of Practice Strategy, RiseSmart

Mobility is the new buzzword in HR. The gig economy, a growing Millennial workforce, remote workers, and globalization have all contributed to a change in how companies and employees view the employer/employee relationship. Organizations and HR departments that haven’t found ways to retain talent and leverage the recent trends to their advantage risk losing valuable talent. Those that aren’t able to offer opportunities for growth and change within the organization not only risk a high turnover rate, they risk limiting their ability to attract the best and the brightest in the future.


During corporate restructuring or layoff events, employees with whom companies have invested heavily, but who are not a good fit for their current role, are likely candidates for transition out of the company. Organizations looking to reduce their employee churn, recruitment costs, and onboarding time are looking for ways to redeploy employees and facilitate their success within the organization.

In organizations where managers are encouraged to both invest time in an employee who may not be excelling in their current role and to offer employees looking for learning opportunities alternative careers within the organization, the benefits outweigh the initial time invested.

Even when organizations support a culture of mobility and flexibility, managers and HR departments often struggle with best practices for moving good employees who might be in the wrong role.

When Employees Don’t Fit the Role

While the culture of mobility and flexibility generally originates at the top of the organization, managers need to understand the value of investing time in current employees, especially employees who are engaged, talented, and dedicated to the organization.

Most commonly, when an employee is not able to be successful in a particular role, the employee/employer relationship is severed. If the employee is part of a company culture that embraces change and lateral mobility, the organization and the employee can work together to find a mutually beneficial solution. Whether the employee is seeking change within the organization or the need for change is recognized by the manager, the HR department needs some tools to help managers engaged in mobility conversations with their employees without causing insult or upset.

Informing a subordinate that they aren’t making the cut in their current position risks upsetting and insulting them. If the goal is to sever the relationship and start again, then the risk is an acceptable one. But, if the goal is to retain talent within the organization and maximize the potential of the people you’ve already invested in, starting the conversation out badly may cut short any further attempt to engage the employee and hinder efforts to use their talents in other areas of the company.

If you’re committed to retaining talent in your organization, here are some tips to help you have a positive conversation to make sure everybody wins.

Redirecting Employees Within an Organization

Instead of approaching the employee with a negative message by letting them know you don’t think they’re a good fit for the job they’ve been doing, find a way to facilitate a constructive conversation that ultimately ends with a better situation for the brand and the person. Identify resources within the organization that you can deliver to the employee to help with career exploration.

HR resources may include:

  • Internal coaching
  • Assessments
  • Job shadowing
  • Mentors

Starting the conversation by offering resources sends a strong message to the employee that you value them and you want them to find a career best suited to their skills and aptitude. Instead of focusing on their lack of success, the conversation can focus on the employee finding more fulfillment in another role based on your observations of performance. Chances are, if an employee is not fitting in well, they’ve realized it and may be making plans to leave the company before they are fired.

The initial conversation with the employee should include:

  • Candid conversation that gets at the issues
  • Focus on employee’s needs and satisfaction
  • Description of the employee’s strengths as well as weaknesses
  • Sufficient timeline for career exploration
  • Pre-set meeting to revisit and conversation and discuss the employee’s findings

When possible, do a little legwork ahead of the conversation with the employee to determine what, if any, opportunities exist within the company. Particularly if you see that the employee is a natural fit for another department, have a conversation with the managers in that department and develop a plan for how you will help the employee network with the right people and explore open options.

Creating a Culture of Mobility

Having a corporate culture that embraces mobility will make having conversations with employees who are underperforming in their current roles easier. First, the employee won’t feel singled out. The lateral move within the organization will be a normal occurrence and the employee won’t have to feel ashamed or embarrassed about being moved from one role to another.

In addition, adopting a culture of lateral movement will make it easier to find a new opportunity for employees who either don’t want their current role, or aren’t being successful in it.

Organizations who don’t embrace lateral mobility will face frequent turnover in Millennial workers who generally seek new challenges and value change and learning opportunities. Although not everyone is looking to make a lateral move, companies expanding their acceptance of different types of movement within the organization will be addressing the needs of a growing portion of the working population and reduce costs associated with onboarding new employees.

Lindsay  Witcher Lindsay Witcher
serves as the director of practice strategy for RiseSmart, a Randstad company. In this role, she leads the team that focuses on building industry leading programs, practices and products that help lead RiseSmart to achieving award winning results. Previous to RiseSmart, Witcher held roles in business operations, HR and education. Witcher is also an active public speaker and writer.