Deciding to fire an employee is definitely the most difficult task you can face in your professional life. How to make sure you’ve done everything you can to resolve the situation before you fire someone? Here is how to think it through.
It may have taken you months to fill the position in question. And now, the employee seems like a bad fit. It’s tempting to think that maybe one day this person will change and “just get it.” But the longer you wait and do nothing, the more it costs you, your team, and your company.
Your job as a manager is to build a team that does great work. To do that, you need productive employees. So if one of them is falling behind, address the problem as soon as possible. Sometimes the right approach can “save” an employee. But sometimes there’s no other way than to let someone go.
The following steps will help you make the right decision.
1. Identify the gaps
The first thing you should do is see where the employee is falling short. Make sure they understand their duties and they have received enough training. The employee might be struggling because business needs are shifting or technology is changing. Remember that your employee’s underperformance may not really be their fault.
“Maybe it’s a manager who isn’t ready to be a leader. Maybe that person wasn’t prepared for the new position and needs solid training to perform better,” says Daniel Aduszkiewicz, CEO & Co-Founder of Human Panel.
If this is the case, a lot can be done to improve the situation and the employee might still have a future in your company.
2. Set expectations
Once you know where the low performance is coming from, you can address the problem. Make sure the employee knows what is expected of them and they receive regular feedback on their work.
“Feedback is vital, but it can often be overlooked in large organizations,” says Daniel Aduszkiewicz. “It happens that employees have regular conversations with their managers but the delivery of feedback or its timing is wrong. Also, if a manager with 20 years of experience talks to 20-year-old employees, they often don’t understand the professional language their manager is speaking. They are told about KPIs or OKRs, but they don’t know what that means. And what’s worse, they often don’t say it’s incomprehensible to them. They pretend they understand it.”
If possible, provide your employee with advice to help them get back on track. If you want them to succeed, don’t hesitate to show it.
3. Back up your judgment with data
If you’re thinking of letting your employee go, try to measure their work. Jay Conger, a co-author of The High Potential’s Advantage: Get Noticed, Impress Your Bosses, and Become a Top Leader advises that you create a “development plan” for such a person that will focus on three or four areas the employee needs to work on. Once you’ve implemented such a plan, you should be able to measure the employee’s progress (or lack thereof). Don’t forget to set a reasonable timeframe for potential improvement.
“Employers often rely on their gut when it comes to judging someone’s work.”
“It’s very easy to be accused of personal biases and beliefs, but for a very small cost companies can have a much more streamlined and data-driven performance evaluation process. Documentation and data can help you prepare for the final decision better, and they will provide you with sound arguments if the employee disagrees with your evaluation,” says Daniel Aduszkiewicz.
If the employee realizes their mistakes and wants to work on their performance, don’t forget to offer your support. Ask what they need and how you can help. Be encouraging and show confidence that they will achieve the goal.
4. Get a second opinion
As humans, we have a biased view on almost everything, so the decision to fire someone should not be made by one person only. If you know someone is failing or missing an important deadline, you might see everything else that this person does in a negative light. Therefore, seek input from trusted colleagues.
“People often have their own view of someone’s actions and behavior. It’s very difficult not to be emotional when you fire an employee. And when you’re emotional, it’s hard to be rational,” says Daniel Aduszkiewicz.
When asking your colleagues for their impressions and observations, try to be specific and ask questions about specific tasks or examples of the employee’s behavior – you must go beyond just asking about their general performance.
5. Be honest with the employee
When talking to your employee about their performance, be transparent, but at the same time, be respectful. Ideally, if you have had open conversations about the employee’s performance on a regular basis, but this has not happened, it is time to be honest.
“Managers often avoid confrontation because a one-on-one meeting where you’re supposed to give negative feedback is always difficult. Plus, managers aren’t always trained to have these conversations,” says Daniel Aduszkiewicz.
That’s why it’s smart to involve HR relatively early in the process and get advice on how to handle the situation. Talk to your HR business partner about your employee’s development, the improvement plan you’ve created, and the data you’ve collected. HR is there to help you.
6. Be honest with yourself
Conger says that the moment you think about firing someone is the moment you make your decision. However, it’s worth asking yourself a few questions before you communicate the decision to the particular employee. “Is this person a member of my perfect team?” “Would I hire this person again?” “If this person left voluntarily, would I fight to keep them?”
“The goal of any manager is to make the organization work. There should be a limited number of opportunities that someone gets. It’s tough because we’re all human and we’re not inherently able to fire people from jobs,” says Daniel Aduszkiewicz.
If your answer to the above questions is “no”, then you have made your decision.
7. Don’t procrastinate
Postponing the decision comes at a cost. The truth is that managers never say they wish they had waited longer to fire someone after making the decision. Keep in mind that putting it off can also hurt your team and your professional image. By keeping an underperforming employee forever, you let your people know that poor performance is acceptable.
“The cost of doing nothing with an underperforming employee can be enormous, especially in departments where the employee has a direct impact on turnover. With some analysis, you can easily calculate exactly how much they cost you.
Firing a person is hard and will likely have a major impact on that person’s life. Try to handle the dismissal professionally and with empathy. Be human. Allow the employee to retain as much dignity as possible. Describe in detail any issues regarding the final paycheck, benefits, and return of company property.
The decision to fire someone is always difficult and we as humans act emotionally in such cases. Before making this decision, identify the cause of the poor performance and make sure the employee understands the expectations you have for them. Backing up your decision with data and data analysis (such as those offered by the Human Panel) will help you come to a final decision. Try to get a second opinion and be honest – both with the employee and with yourself. And once you’ve come to a conclusion, don’t procrastinate.
Most importantly, take action if you have an underperforming – or perhaps even toxic – employee on your team. The worst thing you can do in such a case is to do nothing.