Thoughts on Firing

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"You're fired!"

Donald Trump makes it look easy and almost fun. It was never either of those things for me.

Firing for me was always hard and it was never fun. I think that's the way it should be. In more than four decades in business, I've fired a number of people. I don't know how many because I never thought that was something where you keep score. But, I've developed some ideas about firing over the years.

Firing is something that will affect other people's lives. It's not just the life of the person you fire. There are his or her team members. There are family and friends and other people outside the business. So give the process the attention and care it deserves.

There are only two valid reasons for firing someone. Either that person doesn't perform or doesn't behave or both. Whatever it is, it's your job to document it.

Everyone deserves the opportunity to reform. That's why you document your meetings with the person, what was agreed to, and what happened next.

Follow the rules and the process. Unless you own the company there are rules about what you should and shouldn't do and a process you should follow. If you own the company, there are laws that outline the same things.

Impressions may come and go, but documentation lives forever. It may need to. Those details about who did and said what and when may find their way into an adversarial proceeding way down the road.

There's process and there should also be some urgency. No one gains when someone who is not performing or behaving stays on the job. Do the due diligence and documentation, but follow the advice of John Wooden: "Be quick, but don't hurry."

Boss's Bottom Line

You have to be able to fire people, but it should never be easy or automatic.

Wally's Working Supervisor's Support Kit is a collection of information and tools to help working supervisors do a better job. It's based on what Wally's learned in over twenty years of supervisory skills training. Click here to check it out.



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  • 4/29/2013 4:23 PM Jeff Ogden wrote:
    Great post, Wally. Loved this. Everyone deserves the opportunity to reform. That's why you document your meetings with the person, what was agreed to, and what happened next.

    I was fired without warning, with no explanation and no opportunity to address concerns. I was simply told "You are an at will employee."

    I also loved how you pointed out how firing affects so many others. This is why a flippant attitude is so wrong.
    Reply to this
    1. 4/29/2013 5:40 PM Wally Bock wrote:

      Thanks for those comments, Jeff. One thing I discovered in my time as a boss is that some people won't reform and some people can't reform, but most people will if you give them the opportunity. The really surprising thing to me is that you can't tell in advance which people will be in which group.

      Reply to this
  • 5/6/2013 10:58 AM andy_mcf wrote:
    Sometimes, poor performance is the result of a poor job match. When this happens, if you can't find a better role within your organization, retaining employees (to avoid a painful discussion) is cowardly. There's more at Retaining your Worst Employees is Selfish.

    Of course a better alternative is to hire right in the first place. May help your readers to evaluate talent this way: The Best Bet: Hire Right and Never Fire.
    Reply to this
    1. 5/6/2013 4:03 PM Wally Bock wrote:

      Well said. I generally come down on the side of spending the time and attention to hire well as a way to prevent too many people who can't perform in the organization. But if that doesn't work and a person doesn't fit, it serves no one to keep that person on board.

      My experience cries out, though, that a person who is unwilling to confront others about performance or behavior will rarely be successful in a management role. So selecting for that role is crucial, too. 

      Thanks for adding to the discussion.

      Reply to this
      1. 5/6/2013 5:15 PM andy_mcf wrote:
        Indeed, the business world is full of conflict and tough choices. If you observe your managers engaging in behavior like this, the next step is yours alone.
        Reply to this
        1. 5/6/2013 6:37 PM Wally Bock wrote:
          That about sums it up. Thanks.

          Reply to this
  • 5/6/2013 1:50 PM jeff parlo wrote:
    I have witnessed the word misbehaving used to reinforce a stultifying culture and result in the firing of folks who were truly commited to changing the culture for the good of the company. In fact they were were hired to help bring that about. But sometimes bosses dont have the backbone when push comes to shove.
    Reply to this
    1. 5/6/2013 4:09 PM Wally Bock wrote:

      I've seen what you describe, Jeff. I've also seen the term used to describe a deviation from reasonable standards in the workplace. It depends a lot on who's using the term and why.

      Reply to this
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