The hardest thing I’ve had to learn as a manager is when and how to fire people.
If you’re a decent human being, you’ll never look forward to this part of the job. If you’re a decent human being who doesn’t like to deliver bad news and pass harsh judgment, you’ll dread it.
But you have to do it. For you. For your colleagues. And for your company. And the sooner you do it, the better.
No matter how carefully you check references and interview, you’re still going to hire people who are a bad fit for your team or just can’t or don’t get the job done to your standards. If you allow these folks to stick around, you’ll be taking a big step toward mediocrity. You’ll also dilute the excellent job the rest of your team is doing, send the message that it’s fine to do C-quality work, and undermine everyone’s confidence in you.
In my experience, most of the folks you will eventually have to fire get off to a rough start. Their attitude isn’t quite right, or their skills or judgment aren’t what you expected. You should address this immediately–as in days, not months.
Some people do improve and end up being strong members of the team. Most of the time, however, your first impression is likely to be the lasting one–especially because, if a new employee doesn’t understand immediately that his first job is to win your confidence, he’s already doing a lousy job.
The longer you wait to address the situation, the harder it will be to do so, in part because you’ll begin rationalizing the employee’s performance and gradually expecting less than you should. So if things aren’t going well after a week or two, sit down with the employee. Ask how he or she thinks it’s going–and listen to the response. In this first meeting, give the employee the benefit of the doubt. If the employee doesn’t understand what he or she should be doing, then explain this even more clearly than you (hopefully) did when he or she arrived.
A week or two later, if you haven’t seen the improvement, sit down again. Explain again the areas in which the employee is falling short and say clearly that he or she has to address them quickly or that it won’t work out. Make sure the employee understands that his or her job is on the line. Follow up by reiterating the key points you made in writing and saying that you’ll meet again to assess the employee’s progress in a specified period of time.
By the time you have that second meeting, it’s likely that the employee isn’t long for your world, but it is fairer to both sides to spell everything out. A week or two later–whenever the specified period ends–meet again. In the unlikely event that the employee has radically improved, give him or her another month to demonstrate that the change is permanent. If the employee hasn’t improved enough to meet your standards, it’s time to cut the cord.
The longer the employee works for you, and the more you like him or her personally, the harder it will be to do this. Unless the employee’s performance really is due to a temporarily challenging situation, however, the sooner you do it the better.
As the old saying goes, it’s not the employees you fire who make your life miserable–it’s the ones you don’t. Every minute you invest in trying to help a weak employee limp along is a minute you could have spent finding a strong one. And you owe it to your company, your staff, and your shareholders to focus on the latter.
Note: this article was previously published on The OPEN Forum. Read more. >
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