Firing people sucks. But when you manage a lot of people over the course of your career, it’s inevitable that you’re going to make a bad hire, have under-performing employees, and even wind up with a few difficult people. If you don’t have the courage to do the hard, but necessary, things to remove these people, you’ll not only hurt your team’s performance and profitability, but also their morale. Keeping under-performing or difficult employees inadvertently shows your good employees that there aren’t consequences. Your indecision and lack of action often drives strong employees to leave because they’re tired of carrying the extra weight of under-performers.
But firing people, while a necessary part of business and of being a manager, never gets less uncomfortable.
That said, there are ways to make it easier on yourself and, even perhaps, on the employee. And this starts with reframing firing—or simply looking at it from the employee’s perspective.
Put yourself in their shoes
The first thing to get really clear about is that no one wants to spend 40 hours a week in a job they know they’re not doing well or a culture that they don’t quite fit into.
Consider this: You don’t generally hire people you don’t like and see some potential in. If you’ve moved from even-tempered optimism to the point that you’re ready to terminate them, they either are underperforming, don’t work well with their coworkers, or perhaps are difficult to work with in general. It’s highly unlikely that you’re the only one who has noticed. Imagine going to a job for 40 hours a week and thinking the whole time, “I’m never quite getting this right. I don’t fit in. I can’t wait until I can leave.” Most people recognize this and quit, but some don’t. And that’s when you need to make the business decision to let them go because they’re unable to perform to the required expectations.
At the end of the day, although it’s hard to have to make these decisions for people who are unable to make them for themselves, you’re creating the opportunity for them to find a role in which they’ll probably be happier.
Recognize what happened
Keep in mind that an employee’s inability to do the job can sometimes be the result of your or the company’s own actions. For example, you may have an employee who has been a stellar member of the team for a long time, but then your company begins to expand and evolve, and suddenly he or she just can’t keep up. Some employees just can’t grow with your company the way you need them to. Recognize that they deserve to have a job that they’re good at and that they enjoy doing—and that your company deserves to have someone who can meet the expectations and needs your business has now. Sometimes, the decline occurs because you promoted the employee out of their comfort zone. You assumed that because they were good at lower-level roles they would continue to thrive on higher rungs of the same ladder—but that’s not always the case. Perhaps their strengths lie in working with customers, but not in setting strategy and managing a team.
If you really like this person and they’re a good worker, have an honest talk with them. Indicate that you recognize this new role is not playing to their strengths—and ask them what they think. Maybe they hate it. That frank dialogue can solve a lot of your problems.
When you’re thinking about firing someone, it’s easy to fixate on the awkwardness and potential fallout. But you’ll find when you expand your view and consider both sides, it becomes easier to have the difficult conversations and make challenging decisions.
Firing will always be uncomfortable, but flip the script and recognize that nobody deserves to have a job they’re not good at, nobody wants to go to a job where they’re failing, and everyone deserves a job they enjoy and at which they can excel. If they can’t see that, you need to help them see that. It’s likely they’ll eventually thank you for it.
Rikka Brandon is the leading recruiting and retention expert for the LBM industry. She’s the CEO of BuildingGurus.com and founder of RecruitRetainRock.com where she helps building products business owners and leaders solve their recruiting and retention challenges with strategy, best practices, and access to experts.