5 Steps to Firing a Bad Employee
& Why it’s the Right Thing to Do
You love your job, and are incredibly loyal to your team and company, invested in its success and in seeing each team member be successful and develop in their career. As a leader you have the dual obligation to work in the interest of your employees and of the goals and objectives of the company. You embrace these challenges, have always understood the game, and are up to the task – you are All In.
You are responsible for goals for your team or organization, and everyone assigned to you. You have obligations to ensure fair and equitable treatment, and performance measurement and management across the board. In assessing employees, you need to have a system or process that contains a regular cadence for meeting with each one, and makes clear the expectations of the company and how each employee performance to those expectations. If you are diligent in doing this each week and month, you have all you need to make decisions about who can stay and who may need to go.
No one wants to separate an employee from their business. It is expensive to locate, hire and train new people. Every loss, particularly an early loss, of an employee is an expense that can’t be recovered, only absorbed and written-off. It can be disruptive to business, can cause a heavier workload on others, and can create anxiety throughout the rest of the team who may wonder if the move is a potential start of down-sizing. While each of those factors may be true, good working relationships and communication will allay any fears and get the support you need to shift around the added workload. All the more reason to get it right when you believe it is time to let an employee go.
- Does your employee accept and work with feedback? If so, there is a good chance this is an employee you can work with long term and help make successful. The willingness to accept that there are important things to work on is the first step for any of us to make improvements. The employee who cannot accept feedback, choosing to resist or ignore feedback, or deflect to others who caused it or whom they believe is just as poor or worse of a performer than they are is going to create an uphill climb. While it is always important to make the effort multiple times to try to turn every employee around, and not too quickly give up, there are only so many hours in a workday. You, like your employees, have assigned tasks, and as their leader you are responsible for the team’s output, including the need to address and take action for those unable or unwilling to perform at an acceptable level. Should the employee continue to not accept and work with your feedback, you need to craft a plan that will lead to the employee coming back into the business or begins moving them out.
Weigh the Risks
- Any action you take with an employee needs to be treated carefully and purposefully. A performance or action plan, discipline for attendance or behavioral issue, and of course a termination can only be done if the company, and you the leader, have done your due diligence to demonstrate that you have treated the employee fairly and the termination is a result of their actions. And remember, you will need to prove your case to your own company, likely an HR team, and possibly to a court of law, which is what is always on the minds of those whom you need to support your decision, as they need to mitigate risk to the business with every decision they put their stamp on. Understand all of the factors that the company will look for you to make clear you do, and have accounted for, or you can expect a lot of pushback and frustration when you don’t get your way due to the appearance of ill-preparedness.
Take Investment Inventory
To prove your case that it is time to move on from a bad, or poorly performing employee, you need to prove that you have invested appropriately in the success of your employee.
- Training: What training the employee has completed thus far? Was it consistent with the employee’s peer group, most of whom are performing at a consistent, acceptable level?
- Coaching: Have you coached this employee regularly, and as consistently as others who have maintained successful performance?
- Equity: Have others on the team with similar behaviors or performance been managed similarly, given opportunity to improve before being managed out?
- Opportunity: Have you given your employee the time, coaching, and proper expectations of what improvements are needed, to what extent with a reasonable timeline to get there?
If your answers to each of these questions is ‘Yes’, you have your ducks in their proverbial row to allow you to move forward with a plan and timeline that will either lead your employee to success or to termination. As a leader, and ‘owner’, of your business, you should recognize that either result is a positive for your business and for your team.
Execute Your Plan
The upfront investment you have made by the time you have arrived at this step makes this possibly the easiest step of all. This plan can be very simple and straightforward like any action or performance plan most leaders work with and deliver for their people every day. The biggest difference is this plan is going to have specific actions that must be taken, clear objectives that must be achieved, and all done within timeframe allotted for the employee to either be successful or be separated from the business. Any such plan has just a few key steps that should be included and made clear to the employee:
- In what area(s) of performance/behavior does the employee need to improve?
- What level of improvement must be achieved to be successfully complete this plan?
- By what date does the employee need to reach the performance target outlined?
- What actions should the employee take to improve and reach these targets?
- What actions will you, their leader, take to support their improvement and overall success?
- State clearly the consequences for the employee, should they fail to meet the expectations set forth in your plan by the date as outlined.
Ideally, your plan is a success and your employee has found the motivation and understanding needed to improve and succeed to remain with the business. If they have, great! It should be a sign to you that the combination of your leadership and diligence to coach and to hold accountable all of those you lead is a solid approach. Often that will be the case, and one that allows you to continually learn and affirm that you are a strong leader of people. When the opposite is the result, it does not mean your approach needs to change, but perhaps the employee either cannot or will not do what it takes to be successful. While you will always analyze the steps you have taken, as will all of those you likely need to sign off on next steps, you have taken all of the necessary actions outlined in the final action plan, and the employee did not succeed. Thus, it is time to separate the employee from the business. You can do so with your head held high, as this seldom feels good, but as a leader and owner of your business, you know it is the right thing to do.
As much as this may seem like a long list of things to do that will seemingly take too long to endure poor performance and negatively impact your business, it need not be the case. The fact is that any successful business has a plan for coaching, documentation, measures progress and performance to targets, makes expectations clear, and is done consistently for all employees. Thus, in the span of a month or two, you can move the employee to success or to termination by relying on the practices you use to manage all of the employees on your team appropriately and timely. Good documentation, communication, and leadership will always serve the business and the employees on your team, including your best, highest performers. A company, and a good leader, owes it to the majority of their workforce, the good team players who show up every day and work hard, that their work ethic, their output and performance matters by holding accountable those who do not carry their fair share or take their work seriously, and who overall are more a drain on the rest than their absence from the team will ever be. Do it for them, and you will realize the true meaning of ‘Addition by Subtraction‘.