How to Fire Somebody: A Farmer’s Guide
There is a bunch of positive career development stuff on social media about how to be successful beyond your wildest dreams; how to thrive in the workplace; how to be the best salesperson; how to motivate others; how to inspire, lead and mentor. Hey! Wait a minute. Where’s the pep talk on how to fire someone? It is now that time to gear up your farm labor and running the farm is the same for any successful business in that you need to be able to count on your hired help.
I had a boss once who said: “The first time I fired someone was like the first time I had sex. I was nervous about it. I didn’t know if I would do it right. I didn’t know what the other person would think. But after I did it, I really liked it, I didn’t care what the other person felt, and I wanted to do it again.”
All joking aside, firing someone is a difficult thing to do. Even if an employee makes it easy by being a flop (and still hasn’t quit by now), it is still tough to do. Sending a poor performer packing is easier said than done.
What follows is not an instruction sheet on how to fire someone on the spot. It is a rare occurrence where someone does something so illegal that you just fire them right then and there and security escorts them off the property – like on TV. The firing that this intends to address is for the employee who has been there, been a part of the team, is friends with the other employees, and is a poor performer who is hindering the organization’s ability to accomplish the mission.
In order to fire someone, trace the path back to the point where the person was hired or the point that you became the manager of that person. If you did not follow the below guidelines from the beginning, it is not too late to start over.
Set Clear Expectations and Performance Measurement Criteria
Initial counseling is very important. You have analyzed application submittals, interviewed once or twice, and selected this individual to work for you. At the outset of their employment, or at the outset of your term as a manager of this person, it is imperative that the table is set, and the person understands what is expected and how they will be evaluated. This is a time to go over the job description in depth with the team member and have an open discussion of how you operate as a manager, how you expect your team to operate, and even include “hot button” items on what get under your skin. Specifically, this initial meeting should also set clear expectations on the basics like work hours, breaks, and time off. Communicating the expectations initially gives you, as a manager, a green light to call out employee performance that is suspect, and not being carried out as instructed.
Evaluate Performance Consistently and on a Regular Basis
Conducting performance evaluations is not difficult. If you do not have a format for this, just make one up and stick to it. You can certainly tweak the format as you go or even the content, just make sure you make your employees aware of those changes. The important things to cover are a review of the job description and an analysis of the team member’s execution of those duties and responsibilities. Also, indicate a few key points on what it is that the employee is doing extremely well and what areas you would like to see them improve. A question that often comes up is, “Do I need to have the employee sign the document to acknowledge evaluations, performance counseling statements, etc.?” The short answer is that it is not required, especially for employers who fall under an “at-will employment” umbrella. It can be a good idea anyway, but it can also convey an uncomfortable, overly strict, “if you screw up, I gotcha” feeling that is mostly unnecessary. It is important to lead by example as a manager, so your team members develop a respect for you as a person, not as a fear mongering signature enforcer.
Address Performance Issues Now
The underlying theme is to have effective communication early and often. That theme needs to continue and be a fixture of your management style. As a manager, you need to confront, communicate, and follow up. There is a fine line between understanding that employees will make mistakes and learn from them (and then improve performance exponentially following those mistakes) and making the same mistakes over and over. Once you determine a team member falls into the latter category, it is time to talk. Address the issues clearly and in a written evaluation. Develop a plan for improvement that includes a specific timeline and an appointment between the two of you to readdress the issue. Go over this written plan with the team member and agree on the follow up.
Make Firing the Last Resort
General Colin Powell, in his many speaking appearances regarding leadership, often talks about poor performers and giving them second chances. If you follow the above counseling and performance evaluation guidance, and a member of your team still is not getting it, then Colin Powell would give the advice to retrain and/or move the person into a different capacity within your organization. Arguably, the performance management process outlined above, if carried out effectively, will mostly constitute the retraining portion. However, if you have carried out the process effectively and have had a constant communication flow with the team member, then you should also learn a lot about the person in the process. You have probably been able to determine what motivates them, what frustrates them, and what gives them a sense of accomplishment. Knowing these things, is there another spot on your team that would be a better fit for that person? And would that person be able to make the team better in that position? In a larger organization, it will be easier to repurpose an individual due to the potential availability in other areas. In a small business, where teams are fewer in number and a payroll is budgeted down to the penny, it may be more difficult. In that case, the writing is on the wall. You need to fire somebody.
When the stakes are high and two countries are at odds with one another, war is the last resort after all diplomacy has failed. The same goes for firing someone: It becomes the solution after all diplomacy has failed.