It’s an unpleasant, difficult, and even dreadful experience to have to fire someone. Nobody likes it but…
The truth is that about 90% of the time, everyone – including you – knows it needs to be done.
Only it’s not that easy, is it? Often, that understanding is not enough. As entrepreneurs, we are heavily optimistic but not always realistic. Sometimes, emotions get the best of us.
So, we wait and give more leeway, hoping things will turn around.
The moment you decide not to fire is the moment you start convincing yourself that you made the right decision. It’s subtle and you likely won’t notice it at first but there is a clear symptom:
You start justifying any and all actions because you feel bad about letting someone go. The guilt starts to kick in and the thought of you being the person who takes away livelihood from someone is hard to swallow.
I made this mistake a few times (once with a good friend, no less) until I finally realized that it’s dramatically altering the way I lead and manage people.
Not only does your behavior consume way too much of your time and energy but it also makes you oblivious to your team. While focusing on this one person who should have been fired, I failed to notice amazing people in my team who were doing solid work – all because letting someone go feels terrible.
And worst of all – it was harming the entire team’s motivation.
A friend of mine (another one) challenged me with a hypothetical scenario, which I will pass off to you now.
Imagine you have a supermarket and you caught the cashier stealing money. They are the sole provider for their family and they took a small amount, only a few dollars – so what do you do?
As more of a reflex, I said I’d talk to that person, explain how wrong that was, and ultimately, give them a second chance. It just felt like the right thing, you know? I’m a sucker for empathy in all its forms and I want to be compassionate, human.
My friend said that would be a mistake, and a stupid one at that.
Maybe I’d be right, maybe I’d be wrong – but the fact remains that the deed was done. The problem is, you can’t know if it was the first time or a repeat offense (and do they truly need me to explain how wrong it is? I’m not that naive…).
Now, you find yourself in a situation where you’re always going to monitor that person’s work, looking if they are doing it again, maybe even trying to catch them in the act instead of trusting them. That’s just the human psyche, we can’t help it.
In entrepreneurship, luxury is scarce. You certainly can’t afford to get caught up with the person you’re supposed to fire rather than why they should be fired in the first place.
Yes, we want to drive performance growth and witness personality changes that positively affect productivity. Yes, we’ll also try to think of everything and attempt anything to help – but we’ll sometimes also allow the situation to go on for too long.
The other problem is that in providing a second chance, you’re actually saying it’s okay to do something bad. It can quickly become infectious as people can easily follow the example and just stop caring about the values and quality of their work.
That says something about the ethics of the workplace and company culture because there should be rules and deal breakers. Otherwise, professionalism, accountability, trust, and mutual respect for team members go out the window. No great employee will want to work for you in such an environment.
Sometimes, you have to be the “bad” guy
Substitute the somewhat extreme example of stealing with poor performance or great performance with a toxic attitude and the principle is largely the same – only your decision is harder.
No firing decision is ever easy, particularly if the employee in question isn’t outright breaking the company rules or underperforming so bad it’s ridiculous. Sometimes, there are people who struggle and come up short despite everything you do to help them improve. Some people are rockstars but they behave in a poisonous way, disrespecting the company culture and team members.
The bottom line is that if one of them isn’t measuring up to your standards and expectations, you need to make a tough call. You can’t afford to lose sleep over such a decision.
Every action has consequences. We’re not kids – we have to be held responsible for what we do.
Just as that cashier has to be held responsible, so do you have a responsibility to build a great team that delivers each and every time. For that, you need productive and good-willed employees.
There’s nothing wrong with having a high bar and expecting each team member to meet it. Warn them when they’re falling short and take swift action when nothing changes. Those are basic, yet key responsibilities you have as a leader and manager.
It’s fine to be compassionate but your team comes first. You need to look out for the health of your team (mental more than physical), hold people accountable for their behavior, and enforce fair and sensible consequences.
People management and leadership repeatedly involve making unpopular moves, including terminating a contract. Some personnel problems are unsolvable no matter how hard you try, and can create further problems down the road.
P.S. – trust your gut. When you close your eyes and think who isn’t a true fit on your team – you know. Listen to that voice – you’ll be a better leader and manager for doing it.