The decision to let an employee go can be one of the most torturous decisions. It’s wrought with emotional guilt and uncertainty.
It is more common than not for us to have the same conversation with a business owner, about the same employee, for years…yes, years! Just when a business owner has ‘had enough’ the employee pulls off something ‘good enough’ and buys some extra time. Often the business owner hesitates on letting someone go because they admittedly may have contributed to the problem. Their complaints about the team member often include acknowledgements of not providing the proper training, or time to work with the employee on systems to help organize the work load. Because they know they haven’t kept their word in some areas, they are hesitant to let the employee go and the problem becomes a circular, recurring vortex of frustration and emotionality.
The most honest admittance about firing is the business owner who will admit, “I just don’t have the energy to deal with rehiring and retraining right now.”
Firing someone will never be easy. Whenever we are dealing with another human being, it is hard to make a decision we know may impact their life, their children’s lives and their well-being. However, you can apply a process to let someone go with the least amount of suffering possible while retaining your integrity, compassion and sanity. The face to face termination may still be tough, we all have compassion and emotions, but you can be confident in your decision and what is best for your business.
If you’re wrestling with the pain of firing then we recommend you grab a pen and pad of paper and conduct what we eloquently refer to as a “brain dump”. Sit down and get it out. Write down every frustration, annoyance and toleration that has kept you up at night about this employee. Don’t worry about what is right or wrong, just get it out. This is for your eyes only. You have to get all this out of your head and on paper so there is room for you to think more rationally and calmly about the situation. If you don’t ‘dump’ all of the ‘stuff’, it will cloud your decision-making ability. A major reason why bosses have a hard time making a final decision is because they start the decision process with all this ‘stuff’ rolling around in their heads, come to the conclusion they’ve ‘had enough’, then by the time the next day rolls around and their emotions have calmed they are questioning their decision. Applying a process to the decision that isn’t based on just emotional frustration can significantly reduce your self-torture and improve your final decision.
You might be in a place where it is time to take a hard look at the potential of embarking on the firing process. Rather than focusing on the ‘right and wrong’ of the situation, work to determine which of the following three applies to the team member in question.
1. They are not a good fit for your team. This wording is important. Often we keep people on our team because they have potential or they are a good person. That doesn’t mean that they are a good fit for YOUR team. You are not determining if they are talented or a good person. You are determining if they are what your team needs to grow.
2. It’s a training or systems issue. The ‘miss’ you may be having with your team member may be that they need more training or a system to follow. This can sometimes be hard to determine because a frustrated team member may be showing up as disinterested or uncaring, when in fact they are just completely frustrated that they’ve asked you ten times for help on something they don’t understand and your response was to hand them a 3 inch binder to read to figure it out on their own. (Which they read, only to be more confused because the binder is out of date and doesn’t match any of the software or terminology you currently use.) You could have a great employee on your team who just doesn’t have the tools or training to get your attention, in a way that doesn’t annoy you, and let you know what they need to succeed. Instead they are showing frustration or ‘checking out’ because they’ve tried everything they know to get your help and it hasn’t worked. No one is ‘right or wrong’ in this scenario and both parties could certainly have handled things better, but they key we are trying to get to is that it could be just a training or system issue that needs to be addressed, not a termination issue. And if you fire and rehire, you will likely find yourself in the same situation because the problem wasn’t fixed.
3. Right person, wrong role. Sometimes you have a fantastic potential team member on your team that is put in the wrong role for their unique abilities. Like a flower placed outside of the sunshine it needs, they are wilting, not flourishing. Because business owners are often unclear when they hire exactly what they are hiring for, you end up hiring someone for help with client services and end up putting them in a production role doing administrative tasks. No wonder they aren’t flourishing! Because everyone wears so many hats in a small business, it’s easy for this to happen without us realizing it.
It isn’t always easy to determine which of these three you may be facing. Too often a business owner will get stuck trying to figure out which of the three applies and never take action. Often obtaining outside, objective help is the best route to go. Even if you pay for these services, it will likely be far less of an expense than the time you are spending every day dealing with this issue. Not handling the situation robs you of your energy and confidence, destroys the team and presents an unattractive situation to clients (whether you think they can see it or not – they can).
And honestly, you aren’t doing your team member in question any favors by keeping them on staff. Nobody wants to come to work every day and know they are failing.
Free yourself to find a great new team member and free your employee to find a workplace that is a great fit for them where they can thrive. It really is that simple.