Terminating an employee is a hard decision to make, and when it comes time to sit across the table from them, look them in the eye, and tell them it’s over…well, it’s difficult.
It’s difficult for some people, at least.
When you know it’s not working out, ending the employee relationship quickly is an act of kindness. Letting an unhappy or nonproductive team member hang around isn’t doing anyone any favors. In this episode, Kurt and Kenny share their best tips for letting someone go with confidence, class, and guts.
Episode 14 Show Notes
NeONBRAND’s leadership team covers both sides of the spectrum.
Kenny doesn’t like firing people – he’s the guy who will let an employee hang around for months on end, even when he knows they should go. Meanwhile, Kurt sees terminations as an act of mercy and prefers not to hesitate. As a consultant, Kurt was often the guy who was called in to pull the trigger.
Here’s the thing about letting an employee linger after they’re no longer happy or productive:
Unhappy employees have strained relationships, both at work and at home. They often feel trapped in their position because they need the paycheck, and they’re not doing anybody any favors by sticking around. It’s bad for them, it’s bad for you, and it’s bad for your team.
Ending that kind of relationship is the ethical thing to do. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, though.
Getting the right people on the bus
Business writer Jim Collins used the idea of getting the right people “on the bus” to explain how important it is to have team members you trust in your organization. Everyone is going some place together, so everyone needs to be in the right seats and ready to head the same direction.
Hiring the right people for your team matters. The culture in your workplace determines your future, so hiring decisions should fit tightly within that culture.
You’re going to spend a third of your life around coworkers, so choose team members that you like being around.
People you like doesn’t necessarily mean people like you. Embrace differences – having people from diverse backgrounds makes your company stronger and your culture better.
Remember: you can’t grow if everyone is thinking the same way.
No matter what kind of system you have or tech you use, it’s the people on your team who are executing your vision. It’s so vital to be able to challenge those people, and also that those people can challenge you. The best hires are accountable and dedicated to the core idea of your company.
Gumption also goes a long way – a willingness to do the hard stuff and stick up for one’s own ideas is a great thing to have.
Getting the wrong people off the bus
Gumption and cultural fit and dedication and accountability are all really important…but there’s still nothing that can replace competence.
If someone wants to do what you want them to do, but they’re just not able to do it, it’s time to face facts. As much as you want to invest in them and build their skills, be realistic – can you really afford to sink more hours and dollars into a lost cause?
When you let someone hang around too long, it hurts your entire team.
Their salary and expenses cost you, and on top of that, the opportunity costs are tremendous. The performance standards for your entire team drop, and now you’re bleeding money and using up resources that could be creating returns elsewhere. Meanwhile, you’re not doing your own job because you’re spending time picking up the slack. It’s just not a good situation.
With the wrong people on your team, even your top performers start performing worse, and those with unrealized potential never step up and hit their stride. The lowest common denominator affects your entire team’s performance, morale, and productivity.
There are few things more frustrating to high achievers than being forced to work alongside a slacker, or even a well-meaning team member that just can’t get it together. Nobody likes feeling like they’re pulling more than their share of the weight.
Odds are, you know when it’s time to let someone go. It’s usually obvious when things just aren’t working out.
Having that conversation might not be easy, but it is necessary.
A major part of terminating an employee with grace, guts, and compassion is how you bring them on board in the first place.
Before someone gets hired, they should know exactly what their performance standards are. That makes it much easier to address problems if they’re not hitting their goals, and it reduces the likelihood that you’ll have to have an awkward conversation about performance later.
If those goals aren’t met, you have an objective standard that makes the hard conversation a little easier. They know they’re not performing, and so do you. You can review the goals to which you’ve already agreed and ask if they can improve their performance to meet them. A “no” from them means that it’s time for them to move on to other opportunities since they clearly aren’t holding up their end of the bargain.
Grace and class comes when both sides know what is expected.
If you have trouble with these conversations, that’s okay. Lots of people hate even the idea of firing someone, an if you’re one of those people, it’s probably not ever going to be easy for you. Focus on how much good you’re doing by having the courage and grace to let one person go and seek better opportunities, especially when you look at all the other people on the team who are benefiting from this hard decision.
This is important:
Keeping someone on when they clearly aren’t working out is screwing around with people’s livelihood.
As a responsible business owner or manager, you just have to accept that this is going to seriously suck while you have the awkward conversation, but also remember you’ll both feel better after.
Some people don’t feel guilty or apprehensive. Maybe you get angry because you feel like the person has been taking advantage of you. You might be disappointed and frustrated. You might be sad. You might be scared.
Courage, grace, and class means that you take action even when you don’t particularly want to because it’s the right thing to do.
There’s a chance you won’t have to terminate that person’s employment after all. It’s possible you sit down and find out that there’s more in the tank, and you didn’t hold up your end of the bargain. You can give second chances if it’s appropriate – still, you’ve got to consider what’s best for the organization based on realistic, objective measurements. Third chances aren’t a thing.
If the idea of looking someone in the eye and ending their job still makes you absolutely sick, you can get a guy like Kurt on your team. Find people who are strong in the area of your weakness to help your company grow!
One last thing:
If you can’t fire a family member, then you shouldn’t hire a family member in the first place. You have to be willing to fire your own grandmother if you’re going to hire family.