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Don’t Delay The Firing Squad

November 27, 2009

When you first get the idea that you should fire one of your employees, you are probably already too late. That might sound hard hearted but its all too often true. The boss is often the last to know. When it comes to decisions involving a termination, the great decision maker often becomes the great procrastinator.

How many times have you regretted firing someone? I don’t mean that you enjoyed the process, nobody does, but that you were confident that you had made a proper decision. How often after finally firing someone do you wish you had done it sooner? All too frequently is the typical response.

The success of your business depends on the aggregate performance of all of your employees. It’s vitally important that you choose your employees well, train them carefully and regularly review their performance. You must determine those of your employees who are contributing and those that are not. Then you must act.

Hire good people, train them well and you will have minimized your problems. Minimized is the key word, however. For if you are in business long enough and if you employee a sufficient number of people, eventual the inevitable will occur. You will have to fire somebody.

A lot is said and written about the hiring process, about training, developing, motivating and compensating, but very little is discussed about when and how to fire. In this era of personnel lawsuits and the slimming down of large organizations, we are beginning to get more information on the how. Mostly good but sterile procedural information on the do’s and don’ts of terminations.

The key question for the business owner is when to fire. As hard hearted as the boss is often thought to be, it is nearly universally true that these tough decisions are often unnecessarily delayed in the spirit of fairness or in the hope that they might be avoided. These situations can’t be avoided and there is nothing fair about delaying them.

My experience is, barring some very unusual circumstance, that when you first get the idea that an employee is not going to work out, you should start the firing process promptly. Assuming that you have more than just a couple of employees, by the time you have gotten the idea that things aren’t going so well, your other employees and perhaps your customers have already recognized the situation. Despite their protestations to the contrary, the problem employees are always the first to know when they are not getting the job done.

Everyone that is associated with your business wants it to be a success. If it is successful, they have the option of a continuing future with it. The good people that work for you are looking for you to set high standards for employee performance. When you have high standards the good people will measure up to them. When you accept mediocre performance from some, you will be lowering the the standards for the entire organization.

When you have an employee that is not getting the job done, you must take prompt action. To allow them to continue is not only a costly mistake, but it sends a wrong message to everyone involved. Other marginal performers will assume that their marginal performance is acceptable and your top performers will become disillusioned.

When you have an indication that an employee is not working out to your expectations, make sure that they know what is expected of them and that they have the training and resources to get the job done. The only way to be unequivocally sure that your employees are aware of your concerns and expectations is to communicate your thoughts in writing. This does not mean that you have to use some impersonal form or appear to be laying the ground work for an already decided upon termination. A constructive note or memo that reviews your discussion with them will be helpful to both of you.

If the employee’s performance improves and your expectations are met, give some timely feedback and positive reinforcement. If the problems persist, do yourself, your business, your customers, your employee and their fellow employees a big favor, don’t delay the inevitable. Fire’em.

I have seen enough people fail at one job or at one company and then be successful elsewhere, that I believe that there is a right job for everyone. If someone is not in the right job, delaying the inevitable is damaging to everyone. Your business is hurt, you are frustrated, your other employees can be demoralized and you are not doing the soon to be terminated employee any favors. You are leaving them in a position where will be uncomfortable and unhappy (everybody wants to make positive contributions, have some security and be recognized for their efforts). You will really only be delaying their opportunity to move onto a situation where they can succeed.

Because it’s your business, when the inevitable occurs, be compassionate, be generous, be proper but most importantly be prompt. Hopefully you will only have to fire a few, but when you do, fire fast.

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