How to Handle Firing Someone: A Practical Approach

Firing employees can be difficult, so it helps if you have a plan.

Firing someone can be a challenging and emotional task for any employer or manager. You often have empathy for the other person, you’re worried about their future and their family, and some small part of you (hopefully) is concerned about their well-being.

But as the leader, it’s your job to protect the company. You have several, if not several hundred, people relying on you to protect all of their futures, their families, and their well-being.

That means there will be a time that you have to fire someone because they’re not meeting expectations, they’re at odds with the company’s mission, or they’re just really bad at their jobs. So how can you effectively fire someone? Here’s a practical approach that I took whenever I had to let someone go in any of the companies I ran.

1. Setting Clear Expectations

One essential aspect of managing employees effectively is setting clear expectations at the beginning. Before you even consider letting someone go, make sure you already established measurable goals and metrics related to their performance. You also want to make sure you give them the tools and training to help them meet those goals. This way, you can objectively evaluate their performance and determine if they meet or exceed these expectations. And if they don’t, then they will most likely understand why you’re making the decision to fire them.

2. Accountability for Results

By consistently reviewing the output of all employees and measuring their performance against the established metrics, you can hold them accountable for their actions or lack thereof. This ensures that decisions are made based on objective criteria. Again, it’s hard to argue against whether someone was meeting their expectations. When I’ve been dealing with union workforces, I’ve been able to avoid a lot of headaches just by showing that an associate wasn’t meeting their performance standards.

3. Self-Selection

One effective strategy in dealing with underperforming employees is to allow them to self-select out of the organization. You can do this by setting clear deadlines for achieving specific objectives and certain performance metrics they have to meet. If they realize they won’t meet these goals, they may decide to leave on their own terms.

4. The Importance of Emotion Control

When it comes to firing someone, it’s important to not become emotionally engaged in the process. Emotions can cloud judgment and make the experience more challenging for both you and the other person. Remember, the decision to terminate employment should be based on objective criteria and performance metrics. It won’t be easy, and emotions will almost certainly run high, but it’s important to not get caught up in them on your own end. Maintain a professional demeanor, and don’t let your own emotions cloud your judgment or your reactions.

5. Timeliness and Directness

When it’s time to let someone go, you need to act promptly. As soon as you’ve gathered enough information to determine an employee’s consistent underperformance, sit them down and have a direct conversation. One rule I’ve heard is that as soon as the person sits down, break the news. Avoid delaying or “tugging on the Band-Aid,” as this can create unnecessary stress and confusion.

6. Ownership of Outcomes

One reason firing someone can be emotionally challenging is because you may feel responsible for their success. However, you need to remember that your associates have their own responsibility for their performance. As a manager, you’re there to provide guidance and support, but ultimately, it’s up to the individual to meet their objectives.

7. Maintaining Professional Relationships

Even after letting someone go, it’s possible to maintain a professional relationship, although that can be awkward at first. Give it time, and make sure you end their employment without burning any bridges or saying something you shouldn’t.

Other times, associates may be friends or have had personal connections with their employer. That makes the decision to fire someone even harder. While it may be tough, you need to separate personal feelings from professional decisions. And if you can’t do it, you either have to live with this person dragging down the company’s performance or take the necessary steps to help them improve.

I’ve been a manufacturing executive, as well as a sales and marketing professional, for a few decades. Now I help companies turn around their own business, including pivoting within their industry. If you would like more information,

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