Two of the most important decisions business leaders make are hiring and firing employees. Businesses succeed or fail largely because of their people, and the costs of having the wrong person in the job, or of having to hire and train for the same person over and over can be very high. So let’s take a look at how to make major personnel decisions intelligently and efficiently. We’ve already looked at hiring and educating, so now let’s look at the process for letting someone go.
In my career working with small businesses, I have seen many leaders make hiring and firing decisions based on emotion. Too often, I see people hire those they like and fire those they don’t without considering the employee’s actual value to the company. Conversely, many leaders delay letting go of unproductive employees for way too long because they feel bad for the employee. None of these mistakes are any good for anyone. Just as you need clearly defined hiring and educating processes, you need a clearly defined process for making an employee available to industry.
Define Success—and Failure–Clearly
A clearly defined metric of success makes it easier to get across to new employees exactly what you want. The other side of that principle is that you need to communicate your minimum standards clearly. What happens if someone fails to deliver? Under what circumstances will you let someone go? You want to avoid giving the impression of having fired someone for personal reasons. At the same time, you shouldn’t spend excessive time and money trying to turn around problem employees who are not going to get better. A clearly defined minimum standard and a consistent termination process ensure that any necessary changes proceed quickly and fairly.
Don’t Confuse Tolerance with Empathy
Empathy is good, even necessary, but putting up with unacceptable behavior because you feel sorry for the employee is not. Termination by a thousand cuts is not a gift. Delay often does more damage to the organization and prevents the individual from moving on and finding a more appropriate place to work. When a change needs to be made, put a plan in place that focuses on the needs of the organization and stick to the plan. Hope is not a strategy!
The truth is you can’t change anybody, but that does not keep most of us from trying. Occasionally, you can get someone to turn around, but it’s rare. On average, 17% of a supervisor’s time is spent managing poorly performing employees. Do you really want to spend that much of your time and energy with people who aren’t doing their jobs—and not supporting your champions? For the remedial employee, focus on accountability, with weekly standup meetings, for a maximum of 90 days. After that, if the situation hasn’t improved, it probably isn’t going to.
Act with Honor
Obviously, make sure you have the legal details covered and ready to go before you terminate someone’s employment. You do not want to be sued. But being ethically sound is just as important. Change needs to be implemented honorably, not emotionally. Use the golden rule; treat others as you would like to be treated.
At the end of the day, your business is not just a place of work, but also a community. Who belongs to your community is obviously critically important, but so are the processes by which people enter and exit the group. If your top employees are saddled with slackers who should have been fired long ago, or if they feel that people are let go capriciously or without due consideration, they won’t want to stay. You need the company to feel like a professional home, a place people feel comfortable, and that means making sure it is the kind of community you want to be part of, too.