ID-100266356Most instances when we let employees go aren’t black and white, or at least they don’t seem to be.  The ones that are, those are the easy ones (well, easier).  It’s unusual when an employee has stolen from you or done something that egregious.  (And I’m not saying that it’s easy to deal with this happening to you, but the DECISION about whether to let them go or not isn’t hard.  It’s pretty clear.)

Most of the time when a business owner is deciding to let someone go, it’s an emotional process wrought with guilty feelings, self-doubt and self-bashing – because what if the problem was you? What if you weren’t decisive about their role, or didn’t provide them the time (or whatever) they needed?  It’s hard!  Most employees whom you are considering letting go do have talent and other good points, and the inconsistency or potential you see is killing your ability to make a decision.

This is no exaggeration: We see owners wrestle with letting someone go for 10 years or more.  EVERY time we run into them at a conference or receive an SOS email from them, it’s the same story. “This employee is driving me nuts!  One day she is fantastic and the next I want to throw her out on her arse!”

So how do you know when to fire and when to keep an employee?  Here are some key points from our SmartFire Solution™ process that can help you move forward with a decision.  Because if they are on your team you should be trying everything to make it work.  Letting them sit there and eat up your salary budget, your time and YOUR CONFIDENCE is a million times worse than running short-handed.

Making a confident decision about letting someone go is more of a weeding-out process.  Start removing issues to get down to the root of the decision.

  1. Decide on your deal killers.   These are the things an employee does that warrant immediate termination, such as stealing, sexual harassment, etc. – the “big deal” things.  I know it sounds obvious, but we still see people suffer over letting someone go even when some of these things occur.  Define your deal killers now; put them in writing and in your employee manual.
  2. Apply your core values.  Hopefully you have core values for your company –  those “true north standards” you and your team live by.  (If not, see Chapter 10 of “Don’t Be a Yes Chick.”)   A valuable part of your firing consideration is to apply these core values to your employee.  Do they believe in and uphold these standards?  If no, it’s likely they are not a good fit for your team and you need to let them go.  If they do, it doesn’t mean they should stay, but move to the next consideration.
  3. Right person, wrong role.  Consider whether the person is a right fit for your team but in the wrong role.  Perhaps they are a front-stage superstar stuck in a back office drafting documents, bored to tears, and that is showing up as distraction and a lack of productivity.  We just helped a firm that was conflicted over a certain team member because she was loyal, hard-working and a master at admin work, but she constantly caused “stuff” with the team.  We realized she was a back-stage person who didn’t have the skill set to deal well with interruptions and constant questions.  Well, her seat was right behind the receptionist, who was new, and also right in the path to the front door that the boss walked multiple times a day.  So she was constantly being peppered with “quick questions” from the receptionist, from clients who could see her and interrupt her when they walked in, and from the boss, who threw questions and requests at her randomly as he walked by so he “didn’t forget.”  It had nothing to do with her work ethic or commitment to the company.  She just wasn’t great at dealing with constant, random interruptions and it showed up in her responses.  We simply swapped her desk with another team member who liked being “in the mix” and who also had the responsibility of trying to keep the boss focused, so being in his “walk path” helped her gently refocus him if he began to wander or get interrupted by people.   So it was just a matter of getting the right person in the right role.
  4. Can training or coaching help?  This is a tough one, because most entrepreneurs have the heart of a coach.  They want to encourage, move forward, inspire and “fix” everyone.  But everyone doesn’t want to do the WORK to move forward.  Do an honest assessment of whether you have provided the necessary training and the mentoring or coaching (from yourself or an outside resource) that could make a difference.  If you have, and the person isn’t taking it – it might be time to let them go.
  5. The nitty gritty.  That takes us to the nitty gritty decision of whether this person is right for our team.  And it’s a tough decision.  But remember, you aren’t doing anyone (yourself, the rest of your team, your clients OR the person in consideration) any favors by keeping them around if you aren’t 100% committed to them.  You are keeping them because you are a “good person” and feel bad about firing them – totally understandable – but having them walk in a world where they KNOW in their gut they are not meeting your expectations on a daily basis is putting them in a world of constant failure.  And no one can thrive there.  While firing them may cause temporary crisis, allowing them to be “not good enough” on a daily basis can cause them life-long loss of spirit.  (And p.s. – they usually end up quitting anyway because they can’t take that feeling any longer.)

If you are having trouble in the nitty gritty area of deciding whether a person is the right fit for your team, let us help you with a SmartFire Solution™ Consultation.  Any investment in making a decision and committing to it is FAR less expensive than keeping around an employee you are undecided about (and not committed to).

If you realize you DO need to let someone go, stay tuned for our next blog post, “Firing Employees Without Traumatizing Yourself.”  It’s never easy, because you are a human with emotions, but we have some suggestions for making it a less devastating process.

by Laney Lyons-Richardson

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THE fix my boss workBOOK



This workbook is intended to be used in conjunction with the book, "Fix My Boss" to cultivate respect, risk courageous conversations, and increase the bottom line. The exercises and activities provided will guide you through a step-by-step process of understanding, analyzing, and taking action to create positive change in your workplace.

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