The fact that you do not like firing people is an indicator of your good mental health. I’m not a psychiatrist, so I’m not qualified to say something like “only managers with mental problems like firing people.” However, this sentence sums up quite well my view on this subject. I wrote this article to help managers deal with this challenge based on my own experience as well as the experience of many managers I’ve worked with. Firing people is a part of our job – we should learn to do it well.

There are five main reasons for firing:

1. You are firing because you failed as a manager

It means a situation that results from your wrong decisions. The most frequent ones are: 

  • You hired more people than necessary, and now you have to fire some of them,
  • You don’t have the money for remunerations because you miscalculated the available cash, and the sales forecast didn’t come through,
  • It turned out that some people have become redundant in the course of changes in the company and now you don’t have any tasks for them,
  • You hired people, but you ultimately didn’t receive the next round of funding even though it seemed certain or you lost a key customer (and before you had allowed them to provide 40% of your total revenue),
  • You poorly assessed the candidate’s skills,
  • You poorly defined the responsibilities of the newly created position and you are eliminating it completely or you are creating it anew with other staffing needs.

2. You are firing because someone is a toxic person despite delivering good results

We have to deal with this situation when an employee who is effective and delivers good results also acts destructively towards the team and/or sabotages the management’s initiatives. In other cases, they can just lower the morale or behave in a manner inconsistent with the company’s values. In extreme situations, we can talk about people who break the law. In the case of sales, marketing or customer service teams, the situation becomes more difficult when the person is responsible for a large part of the team’s results.

3. You are firing because someone doesn’t deliver results although they are considered an irreplaceable team member

This is a particularly difficult emotional situation because the employee, in most cases, “has always worked in the company” or “makes a good team spirit.” It’s so difficult for the firing person as well as the fired one – and additionally, for all other team members. Unfortunately, the performance and indicators are not in the right place. 

And finally, a situation which requires no further description or comment:

4. You are firing because someone doesn’t deliver results and is a rotten apple

Sometimes another type of situation – also seen as a pivot occurs – where you are firing because there have been great changes in your company and the altered state of things does not provide enough positions for some employees. This situation occurs rarely, so I will not discuss it.

What should be done in these scenarios?

You are firing because you failed as a manager

If, for example, you are firing X% of the team because you failed and you need to cut costs, this topic is not suitable for Facebook but for consultations. This can’t be done in a way that doesn’t hurt. To make things worse, the planning stage can bring you down because firing one person is already highly uneasy while firing a dozen or so in one day becomes a real nightmare. However, it can be done in a way preventing everything from falling apart, but it’s very difficult in terms of logistics, requires nerves of steel and an extremely strong stomach.

I can definitely recommend taking 100% responsibility for everything that went wrong and using the words “I’m sorry, it’s my fault” at least a few times too many. Make sure to fire everyone face to face and keep to the obligations that arise from contracts. Delaying the decision won’t help – so do it quickly with a single blow. Dividing this suffering into parts will consume the energy still remaining in you as well as the team that you are trying to keep in the company. This situation is surely more difficult for supervisors who are close with their teams and are “friendly” in terms of their management methods. 

You are firing because someone is a toxic person despite delivering good results

The rotten apple delivers results, so you must take preventive measures, especially if that person has been working for a long time. For example, when it comes to sales, you must wait with firing the best salesperson until sales start growing naturally due to the fact that, for example, your business is characterised by seasonality. And even better – have someone to take their place. In other departments You must make sure that the teams will take over that person’s responsibilities smoothly and without an efficiency decrease.

Once you identify them – you need to fire the toxic people as soon as possible before they get serious and deliver great results. When they begin to fulfil their goals, it will be much more difficult to fire them and it will require much more preparation. The matter is clear from the social perspective as everyone knows that we are dealing with someone who ruins the team. However, don’t forget to communicate the issue to the team so that they know the consequences of non-compliance with the company culture.

The crucial matter: you mustn’t wait until that person decides to quit on their own. If you let it happen, you will lose a lot of time, initiative and control over the situation. If that person quits, you won’t have the chance to inform the team “regardless of your good results, you are not exempted from complying with the company’s cultural norms.”

You are firing because someone doesn’t deliver results although they are popular among the team

It’s a really difficult dismissal. If the employee doesn’t deliver results, but they are liked by the entire team (often by you as well), it is crucial to think whether you are able to help that person get out of the woods and give them a chance to improve using a reasonable amount of resources and time. In most cases – although we would like it to be otherwise, the real answer is “no.”

So if there are no prospects for improvement or their last chance was not used properly, do your best to help that person fall on their feet. Arrange 10 interviews for them in other companies. Bend the rules for them in terms of holidays and notice periods. Do what you can. As a result, the rest of the team will find coping with that person’s dismissal easier, and you will feel a little better (though not too great).

You are firing because someone doesn’t deliver results and is a rotten apple

Just fire that person. Neither you nor your team nor that person will regret this parting. You don’t have any obligations towards each other except those stated in the contract, so you are just doing your job. You must thank them for cooperation and sincerely communicate the reasons for dismissal to that employee as well as the team. Remember priorities: the dignity of every fired person is more important than transparency towards the team.

Regardless of the reason, I use a few rules when considering employee dismissal:

  • I always conduct a feedback conversation aimed at making the employee aware of my expectations and the manner in which I am assessing the current situation.
  • I look for an alternative solution to firing (for example, perhaps a salesperson delivering poor results, after having their bonus scheme changed, will make a better presales consultant, customer service specialist or sales assistant).
  • If something looks like a rotten apple and smells like rotten apple, it probably is a rotten apple. Don’t hesitate to respond if several factors or sources indicate a problem.
    Here in Casbeg, we work a lot with managers who have this type of difficult situations and we prepare them for different scenarios. If you would like to discuss this, please contact us. We will do our best to help you with your case.

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