There isn’t a single company on Earth that gets all of their hires right – even recruiting thought-leaders like Google. This fact has one inevitable conclusion: at some point you will need to look a bad hire in the eye and tell them they’re fired. Yet why are we so bad at letting people go when it’s clearly necessary?
When that moment comes, you can read 10 top listicles on how to fire someone. But even when they offer good advice, it’s generally focused on what to do in the firing meeting itself. If you’re only starting at such a late stage, you’ve already made some key mistakes.
Because whether you’re a founder, manager, or HR officer, you shouldn’t be firing anyone unless you’re fully prepared. Not only to carefully plan your words during the firing meeting, but to be fully aware of the reasons behind and the future outcomes of the scenario about to unfold. Here are some key questions you must answer before telling someone you’re letting them go.
This is the question that’s almost guaranteed to come up in any firing meeting. That said, it’s just as often dismissed. But why? In part because that meeting isn’t the right time to give constructive feedback. That discussion belongs to a time before, or even after. In fact, offering a follow-up meeting a few weeks later can be far more constructive than diving right into the “why” question: “Why are you firing me?” Remember, even if you know why, there’s a time and place for that discussion.
The bigger problem comes when you’re unsure why, or even whether, you want to part ways with someone. The decision makers involved don’t all have to be 100% in agreement, but should be able to focus on having a solution, next steps, and a clear “why”. Remember, the only thing worse than having doubts about whether to fire a bad employee, is to postpone the decision, creating an environment of animosity,, and allowing things to get worse.
Conventional wisdom says you should fire someone on Friday afternoon or Monday morning. But conventional wisdom is wrong. You should fire someone as soon as you’ve taken the decision and understand every detail of how you’re going to execute it – from the moment you’re telling the employee “you are fired” to the time they leave the office.
But why not postpone for just the right moment? Anyone who’s done that in, say, a romantic relationship, knows how awkward and messy the time between deciding to end things and actually ending them can be. For example, you might fall in a situation where you have to decide whether to involve this person in a certain project and have to lie in front of the other team members. This can hurt team trust and worse, cause damage to vital projects.
3. What’s next?
When you fire someone, you’ve got to move forward ruthlessly. But what if losing that team member causes chaos on a team? To address that, you should have a plan for who will take over their responsibilities: everything from day-to-day duties to staff meetings, planning and reporting.
No doubt the transition period will be tricky, which is why it’s important to designate someone to step in to pick up the slack. If that person happens to be you, there is an added perk of you being able to better understand the position and ultimately hire a better fit next time.
Additionally, after you let someone go, they often start thinking more about themselves than the company. Therefore, be prepared to answer the “what’s next for me?” question from the employee. Have a prepared plan with benefits, salary termination, and logistics ready.
4. How to communicate the decision?
The worst thing you can do after an employee leaves is not to explain why to the whole company. After all, firing an employee should be mostly about helping their fellow employees. But if you keep the reasons to yourself, it’s easy for employees to assume the worst or create their own stories as to why the firing occurred. Down the road, this could lead to them questioning your motives and hurting morale.
Ensure your decision is framed as one taken to benefit the company, admit any failures, and generally consider the viewpoint of your employees. The person leaving probably has friends in the company, so showing respect for that person is vital.
5. What if I’m making the wrong decision?
Firing is dreadful and there is no way around it. The only thing that you can do is to understand why it’s happening and how to prevent it next time. Once you’ve passed through the difficult moment, sit down, get a paper and write everything that you’ve learned through the journey.
Still, remember before you do it, that this is something necessary for the company. Sometimes, keeping the wrong person for the job employed causes many more difficulties than letting them go. And if it happens to be your responsibility to let them go, keep in mind you’re doing a good job not only for the company, but also for the ex-employee. They won’t thrive in your company, neither would they feel happy if they stayed. So do not feel guilty and don’t wrongly attribute any fault to yourself for making the firing decision.
There would be moments in your career that you are going to promote or reward other employees, but sometimes there would be moments that you have to let some of them go. Being the person who has to say “You are fired” is extremely tough, but true leadership is built on tough conversations. Like so many other complicated things in life, the key to sustaining a tough conversation, is preparation. So don’t underestimate it – it’s going to be a good test answering yourself this questions.