When is the Right Time to Fire Someone — Leadership I.M.H.O.

People are not the greatest assets in your organization. The ‘right people’ are. Not everyone is fit to do well in any position in your organization.

Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great,” has found that great companies first get the ‘right’ people on the bus, then the wrong people off the bus. Only then can a leader figure out where to drive that bus.

Here are the high-level steps in getting the right people on the bus:
STEP 1: Get the RIGHT people on the bus
STEP 2: Get the RIGHT people in the RIGHT SEATS on the bus (the right job/role)
STEP 3: Figure out where to drive the bus

We’re not here to talk about the right people. We’re here to talk about the people who are NOT your greatest assets-the WRONG people. Once you’ve identified who are the wrong people in your organization, the only thing any good leader should do is…FIRE THEM!

Just kidding…let’s not do that, yet. Any good leader knows that the WRONG people at that time, may just be having a bad day or is going through a ‘moment.’ We’re not going to talk deep into developing and coaching people in this post. Instead, we’ll talk about how to know when it’s the right time to fire someone.

Kim Scott discussed this in detail in her book, Radial Candor.” Many organizational leaders have a hard time navigating this situation. Many think the actual execution of the termination is the hardest part-wrong.

A good leader has to approach underperformance (or any other reason for termination) seriously. They perform a sufficient amount of coaching until termination is undeniably the only course of action. If done well, the termination will not come to a surprise, and there may be an environment of mutual understanding-between the leader and the employee-that parting ways is the best for both parties.

When is the right time to fire someone?

  1. Appropriate feedback/coaching was provided to the employee.
  2. The employee has a significant negative impact to the team and the organization.
  3. The employee doesn’t show the drive to improve their performance.
  4. Other leaders are noticing the underperformance.

Appropriate feedback/coaching was provided

Is it clear to the employee the expectations of the organization, of their role-your expectations? Have you provided them feedback in regards to their underperformance and have created specific, measurable, and actionable plan to improve their performance? Were you honest and sincere in providing them the opportunity to pick themselves up from their situation? Did you provide them with the resources they need to be successful? And, have you allowed appropriate time and opportunities for them to make improvements? If you’ve done all these and still haven’t had any positive results, it’s probably time. Remember that you’ll need to change the way you approach underperformers for them to make any progress.

Negative Impact to the team/organization

As a leader, it’s your responsibility to create a productive and positive environment for ‘everyone’ in your team. People around underperformers suffer because they end up picking up the extra workload or have to endure the negativity that underperformers infuse in any work environment.

We have three kids. We were always taught that once a baby starts crying for being hungry, that means the baby’s already starving. They’ve endured being hungry for some time before alarming their caretakers with their cries. That’s the same with the teammates of underperformers. They usually don’t want to point-out their underperforming teammate to their managers. So, by the team you’ve heard of someone’s underperformance or diminishing attributes at your level, it’s a good assumption that this has been going on for quite some time now.

Underperformers have the ability to pull everyone’s productivity and morale down with them. Even superstars in your team will suffer the diminishing impact of these underperformers.

Lacks the drive to improve performance

Underperformers may sound all pumped up during your coaching session with them, but you’ll need to make sure that the enthusiasm they’ve shown you continues in the workplace. It’s okay to trust that they get your point and understand what needs to be done, but it’s always good to monitor their progress closely.

Inspect what you expect. It’s okay to inspect. It doesn’t mean you don’t trust them. It just means that you’re 100% involved in their path to success. If they’re at this point in the process of coaching, they can’t afford to have more setbacks.

If you can’t see the underperformer doing iterative improvements on what they do every day, and they don’t seem to have the drive and the desire to improve-perhaps this is not the job for them.

Other leaders are noticing

As discussed above, if an underperformer has come to your attention, that means the rest of the team has already endured the negativity this person is spreading for some time now. Just imagine if you’ve heard about this underperformer from other leaders.

You may hear from other leaders in two ways:

First, you may have consulted your peers about the situation about your underperformer, and the specifics of the first three steps of our discussion. If they think it’s time for you to take the next step to terminate the employee, it’s probably time for that.

Next, you didn’t consult your peers, but the reputation of your underperformer has reached the ears of other leaders in your organization. You may need to reconsider the way you communicate with your team. This type of news can only come from team members within your team. You may need to make sure your team is comfortable in approaching you about these matters. If it’s not from the sentiment of your team members, your underperformer is most likely impacting other areas of your organization.

If another leader approaches you about an underperformer, you need to take action quickly and decisively. Your effectiveness and reputation as a leader may be in question. If one leader has already pointed this out to you, how many more leaders in the organization have already noticed as well? Act now!

Firing someone for underperformance is not easy and it’s not fun. Firing is an unfortunate act for a leader, but it’s an essential skill every leader needs to master and be effective in.

Firing an underperformer doesn’t just help your current organization and the people within it. If done correctly, you will also be doing a favor to the underperformer in your team. This may be a wake-up call for them-starting fresh at another company and picking up their performance from scratch. It can also be a sign to the employee that they’re in the wrong job, hence, paving the way to a more vibrant career where they can be the best at their craft.

Walt Disney was fired as a cartoonist from the Kansas City Star newspaper.

Oprah Winfrey was fired as a news reporter at a Baltimore TV station.

Mozart was fired as a musician in the court of the prince of Salzburg.

Jerry Seinfeld was fired as an actor in the TV sitcom, Benson.

Madonna was fired from Dunkin’ Donuts on her first day at work.

Abraham Lincoln was demoted from being a captain in the army to the rank of private.

Crowdsourcing FTW

Have you had to fire someone in your team? What steps did you have to take before reaching the point of termination? Can you share some important learnings from your experience in firing an underperformer?

Originally published at https://donvarela.com on June 20, 2020.

20-Year Financial Services Veteran. Leader and Contributor in IT, Marketing/Advertising, PR, Lending, and Customer Service. Coach. Author. Speaker.

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