Thank You for Firing My Co-Worker!

Article by:
Arlene Vernon, EO Speaker
Arlene Vernon
EO Speaker

Every time I’ve been asked by a client to participate in the termination of an employee, I’ve also been thanked by a co-worker of the terminated employee. At first, this shocked me. But the more I tell this story in my management training sessions, the more head-nods and similar comments I receive from the business owners and managers attending the session.

It sounds strange, but it’s true. You see, most entrepreners do not wake up in the morning wondering, “Who can I fire today?” Most of us are concerned about the poor performers and policy violators, and we keep giving them more and more chances to succeed. But often, these "bad" employees just don’t take the opportunities given.

As a result, we can become hesitatnt to dismiss the employee. We give that employee one more chance, while our solid performers and stars look on wondering, “Why doesn’t he/she just fire that person already?”

So if you’re one of those individuals hesitating to terminate an employee who isn’t sufficiently contributing to the success of your organization, here are some questions and tips to consider:

  • Do you have certain employees who you just hope will resign? If so, this isn’t a good sign. In order to be successful business owners, we must design the powerful team we need to move our businesses into an increasingly successful future. Even one employee who fails to meet your standards of performance can have a titanic negative impact on your organization.  It's our job as entrepreneurs to help them succeed as best as we can, and if that doesn’t work, to release them to succeed at another organization. 

  • Are other employees and/or managers picking up the work of their co-workers? This is a common sign of a failing employee. It is also the best way to chase a high-performing employee out of your organization and into one that better appreciates his or her talents. It's important to identify whether the failure requires training or coaching, or whether the employee is simply incapable or disinterested.

  • Are you trying to fix an unfixable employee? In my business, I like to use the fun analogy that if you're in a relationship and you haven’t been able to “fix” your spouse/partner after all the years you’ve spent together, what makes you think you can “fix” an employee? If strategized  employee development methods aren’t working, it's time to look elsewhere for solutions.

Now that you’ve identified the employee who needs your encouragement to find greener pastures, it's time to strategize the most effective method to remove the employee. Once the decision has been made to set him or her free to find their future, we tend to want to just get it over with; however, I've found that preparation is key.

  • To effectively safeguard your company, consider the following questions before terminating the employee:

  • Have you documented the failure to perform sufficiently to contest unemployment?

  • Do you or others have sufficient knowledge of the employee’s job to make a smooth transition after the exit?

  • Have you protected the organization from potential employee sabotage (computer backups, cancelled credit cards, confidentiality agreements, etc.) before the termination?

  • What other manager can be present for the termination as a witness to protect you from false claims?

  • How will you communicate the termination to your employees and/or customers?

  • In the end, I've discovered that you want to balance the slowness to fire before the decision and the speed of firing after the decision to protect the organization, customers and coworkers. It sounds so simple, but it’s a delicate dance where you need to take all the right steps. Oh yeah, and don’t be surprised if employees thank you for creating a better workplace.

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