“You’re Fired!” The phrase rings out like a shot no matter how or when you hear it. It’s laced with an understandably negative feeling.

But, does it have to be a negative thing? I say no!

We’ve all heard the saying: “If you love something, set it free.” And, at one point or another in our lives, we’ve wanted to be set free. Free from a lousy job, free from pressures at home or work or school, free from debt, and so on.

So, why do we hold on forever to people and things that keep us from feeling free, allowing us to grow, and enabling us to pursue our passions?

Consider one solution from two perspectives to this question.

Perspective One: Employers/Managers with Underperforming Employees

Employee Training
Invest in your employees!

In the most idealistic scenario, good managers love their people and want to do everything they can for them to succeed. Managers and employers know that no matter how talented the prospective or current employee, if they don’t invest in training and education they are guaranteed to underperform. Organizations must invest in their people. 

The highest performing sales group I’ve ever coached succeeds because their organization shows their love and respect for them by investing thousands of dollars every year in training and coaching. In fact, in the last 6 months, that team has set multiple sales records every month.

In the least idealistic scenario, good managers know how expensive turnover is and will do anything to reduce those costs. If you’re a little less prone to the warm and fuzzy parts of management and leadership (I get you!), there is no arguing how damaging the cost of good people underperforming can be. It’s not just the hundreds of thousands of dollars their low conversion rates are costing you every month. 

Perhaps the biggest cost is to your culture. Your softness on expectations shows up to your performers as disparity and favoritism. Eventually, they’ll grow tired of carrying the underperformer’s load and leave you at a much greater loss.

Perspective Two: Good People in the Wrong Job…and They Know It!

Should You Fire Your Employee

You all know what I’m talking about here. Jim Collins would suggest they don’t belong on the bus. 

You’re probably guilty of hanging on to these people for too long. Don’t beat yourself up if you have. You’re a member of a large and well-intended crowd. Instead, resolve to see the bigger picture when you have good people in the wrong job. 

Very early on in my management consulting career, a lifelong friend and powerful mentor in my life gave me a simple phrase that has time and again provided a pathway to setting the wrong people for the job “free” without feeling like Machiavelli.

“You don’t seem happy. Maybe it’s time you sought happiness elsewhere. {Pregnant Pause} I’m here to help you in any way I can to transition you to something that will make you happy elsewhere.”

Never Underestimate The Power of Relief!

If you’ve ever terminated someone you will recall vividly the emotions you felt before, during, and after that interview. Imagine if you’d positioned your termination conversation in terms of how relieved that employee was going be. Instead of coming to work every day knowing they weren’t measuring up to expectations and losing passion, they moved on with kind thoughts about you and your organization. And, you upgraded your organization and culture.

Everybody wins when you fire people right. 

I’ve lost count now of the number of people who were completely relieved that I helped them reignite their passion and move on gracefully. And, in the end, I felt like a better human and a smarter employer. Best of all, every time I have cycled the quality of my organization up and improved culture and performance.

The Answer: If You Love Your Underperforming People, Set Them Free

flying birds
Set your underperforming employees free.

I can remember like it was yesterday the exchange I had with a manager I’ll call Ruth. Ruth had been in a leadership position for a number of years before I joined the business. Ruth was beloved by her team. She was a guardian and a shepherd who worked tirelessly to care for them and me. The problem was she and her team’s performance and style was well below my expectations and the expectations of the ownership. And, she didn’t have the vision to implement our vision.

After a very taxing day of underperforming expectations (something that I allowed to go on for 6 months longer than I should have – and after significant investment in time and training), I brought Ruth into my office. I got to the point pretty abruptly and expressed my concern that she was unhappy and I wanted to help her. 

This was risky. Without her, I’d be devoid of leadership in a key role. Much to my relief, the prospect of being relieved of those duties took 10 years off her life instantly. And, in the process, we found a way to reassign her roles. To this day, 15 years later, she is still thriving in those new roles. 

Luckily, I didn’t have to terminate her to set her free. But, as I mentioned before, there are plenty in that category.

The Takeaway

In whatever situation you find yourself, remember this: People Want to Be Happy. If you can’t help them get there, do the right thing and set them free.