How to Fire Someone

So I had to fire Peterson today.  He’s been with us a few years and he’s had his chances, but it was clearly time to go.  At one point in my career, I felt like the “terminator.”  I was firing people right and left.  They all deserved it, but still I worried about the team’s perception.

However, a wise mentor once told me that “people terminate themselves.” I think that’s true as long as you’ve done some key things as a leader right from the start.  Over the years I’ve developed what I think is the best way to fire people.  Much of it starts the day you hire someone.  No, there is no good way, but I think the following process leads to the least amount of pain.

Before you let the axe fall, make sure you’ve been a good leader:

  1. Be a servant leader.
  2. Communicate your vision.  Outline your goals and vision clearly.
  3. Be transparent. Outline your expectations of your team and individuals.
  4. No surprises.  Your team should never be negatively shocked by your actions, only pleasantly surprised by your interest in them.
  5. Do the grunt work.
  6. Earn their trust.  Make sure they know you’ve got their back.
  7. Give them a break when a break is needed.  Death in the family, new baby, sick kid, 60 hour work week, etc… People have a life.  Let them live it.  They’ll work harder for you if you let them be a big boy or girl.
  8. Help people solve their own problems.  Teach them how to identify a problem AND a solution.  You can’t do it alone.
  9. Take a stance.  Make sure your team knows what you stand for.
    A manager was once asked, “What do you stand for?”
    He replied, “Whatever my boss wants me to stand for.”
    WRONG answer.
    And when that boss is gone, does he stand for the next guy’s opinion? And what about his next job?  Don’t be that guy.  What can your people get behind?
  10. Let them know your firing process. Put this in your employee handbook and talk about it openly in your town hall/all employee meetings.  It’s an uncomfortable subject, so make it more comfortable by letting everyone know exactly how it happens.

If you’re doing 1 thru 10, and several other things you’ve found in great leadership books or learned from great mentors, then I contend that the firing process will be less dreadful.

And what does it look like?  Here is my “How to Fire Someone 101.”

  1. Have a 60 day period that lasts from the first issue to the final termination.
  2. Opportunity #1 – If someone is not getting it done, send them a calendar invite with Opportunity #1 as the subject line.  This is indeed a meeting invite to their first warning.
    a. This gives them the opportunity to soil their drawers in private. Otherwise, they’ll be walking into a meeting on a “project update” or some fake subect, only to be ambushed by the news of their wake up call.
    b. Be positive in the meeting.
    c. Set a 30-day plan in motion for them.
    d. Identify areas where they need improvement and set clear goals to achieve.
    e. Let them know they have 30 days to get their act together or you’ll move the bar to defcon 2.
  3. Opportunity #2 – If Opportunity #1 didn’t take and 30 days have passed with no signs of improvement, send them their second meeting invite with Opportunity #2 as the subject line.
    a. Again, they have a chance to freak privately.  Let them do it at their desk with what little dignity they have left.  Then watch closely how they enter that meeting.  Their body language will tell you if they’re defeated or eager to try, try again.
    b. Be more direct.  Their job is on the line.  Make sure everyone in the room knows that.
    c. You want them to succeed.  There are costs involved in training, turnover and morale.
    d. Let them know they have 30 days.
    e. List very clear objectives and metrics.  There is no room to be willy-nilly here.
  4. Day 61. Escort them out the door
    a. If they are a good person and there are no hard feelings, then wish them well.  Review their resume.  Call a buddy where you know they might be a better fit.  (Do be careful about your words and recommendation letters.  You may be bit by a snake unless you really know this guy.)
    b. If they are the demon seed, then wish them well and lock the door behind them.

Have your HR person in the room with you and make sure you comply with all laws and regulations that your organization has in place.  The above works for me and my company, but it may not work for you.

Lastly, remember that people terminate themselves.  If you do steps 1 through 10, you have nothing to feel bad about when it comes time to let someone go.  Oh, and be prepared.  Things may go well, or…they may go something like…

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About Tom Brauch

Love your family. Serve others. Try your best. Make friendship a fine art. Drink deeply from good books. Make each day your masterpiece. Give thanks for your blessings. Master your emotions. Accept responsibility. Reject passivity. Lead courageously. Don't hold onto things. Play hard. Work with passion. Put integrity first. Laugh at the world. Persist until you succeed. Act now. Refine.
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