I talked to a business owner recently who’d kept a woman as his office manager for 2 years when he knew she wasn’t good for his business. He hated the idea of firing her but finally he had the conversation with her to tell her that he was letting her go. He was astounded when, at the end of the conversation the woman said, “Thank you. You’ve given me clarity!”
We have another client whose fired manager regularly socializes with him and people from the company.
Surprisingly, firing someone can actually have a positive outcome for that person… if you know how to fire with compassion.
Knowing how to fire with compassion starts with your mindset
The fact that you’re willing to have the discussion is evidence that you care more about the person than you care about yourself… because you’re willing to get out of your comfort zone and have an uncomfortable conversation. This is the foundation of the mindset you need to fire with compassion.
The mindset you want to have throughout both the decision process and in any termination conversation is your belief that the person will be better off working somewhere else where they’re valued, successful and making a difference. Working for you, they’re sensing they’re not performing well and they also have a sense that they’re not fulfilling their potential. And they probably feel bad about letting the team down and letting you down. Believe that there’s something better out there that suits their strengths and desires better—because that’s the truth.
The willingness to fire takes someone who cares about the whole team
Deciding to fire someone also says that you care about all the other people who work in your organization. Why? Because they all know who the strong-performing people are and who the under-performing people are and they’re watching you to see how you handle it. When you keep someone around who’s under-performing, you’re communicating that sub-standard performance is acceptable. Not letting an underperforming employee go also thwarts any efforts you’re making to create a culture of accountability. It’s hard to hold anyone accountable when you’re letting even one person slide.
People want to be part of a successful team and they hold you as the leader accountable for creating an environment that enables success. Under-performance is contagious. People are not likely to give it their best when they know under-performance is acceptable in your culture. The culture can only be as good as the lowest common denominator. So, firing someone creates the opportunity to add a higher-performing individual to the team plus, it’ll raise the performance of everyone else in the organization.
We all hesitate to fire someone and for good reason. We should hesitate. A lot of leaders don’t know how to fire, let alone how to fire with compassion. They’re afraid of hurting the person’s feelings and worse, creating a financial hardship for them. But if you know how to fire someone with compassion, candor, and clarity, your hesitancy turns into confidence.
We always say that you can say anything to anyone and say it respectfully. If you go into the employment termination conversation with the belief that firing someone is doing what’s right not only for your company but also for the person, the tone of the conversation will be both caring and respectful. Once you’ve made your decision to fire,
Compassion before you fire
We believe in “fire fast and hire slow…” but only after you do all you can to help the person be successful.
- Spell out what aspects of their performance qualify as under-performance and make sure they’re clear on expectations.
- Provide training and the right resources, and ensure environmental factors are right for success.
- Move the person to a job that you and s/he believe is a better skill match.
- Determine if their values are a mis-match with your culture’s values. If they’re different, chances are low that you’ll change them. It’s time to part company.
If you’ve done all this – and it shouldn’t take you more than about 3 – 6 months—and you still have under performance, it’s time for the employee to move on.
Compassion during the firing conversation
- Attend to the HR details like canceling security entrance and IT clearances, arranging severance and final pay, etc.
- There’s no getting around the fact that this will be a painful conversation for the person whose employment you’re about to terminate. Memorize a concise phrase like, “As you and I have been talking over the last few weeks, your performance just hasn’t matched (or reached) the level this job requires. I’m sincerely regretful to tell you that I’m ending your employment with ABC Company. Your last day will be today.”
- Wait a few seconds to give whatever time you sense they need to soak in what you’ve said, but this is not the time for lengthy justifications or responses to challenges about your decision.
- After you’ve given a minute for reaction, say, “We’re providing a severance in the amount of $___ to help carry you through a job search,” or
- Wish them well in their next move and if you know them well or have known them for a long time, perhaps even ask them to let you know where they land and if there’s anything you can do to support them.
While firing someone is a painful experience for a person, knowing how to fire with compassion will guide your words and help steer the person on to an even better job experience at their next company.