A great buddy of mine from the telecom industry told me this once, and my first reaction was probably like yours – “C’mon, that’s too harsh!” But over time and through many experiences, I’ve come to learn it’s true.
Disclaimer: this is NOT to say you shouldn’t go through the proper Human Resource processes when terminating someone’s employment. It’s a big deal. But get your HR representative engaged now, because it is likely going to happen. Oh, and this is not about egregiously bad behavior, performance, dishonesty, or issues like theft, etc. Fire that person NOW and don’t look back!
Leadership traits work for and against you.
Hey, you are a leader for many reasons, and one of those is you have good instincts. People without good instincts don’t make good leaders. They just don’t. By the time you hear yourself say, “I really ought to fire Alice”, you probably know deep down, that it’s going to happen and it’s only a matter of time.
But one of your other key traits as a good leader is that you are a solution-creator. You are a fixer of things, of situations, and of problems, aren’t you? So the path you choose first, and understandably so, is to fix this situation, because that’s just what you do. And it’s decent, it’s humane, and it’s EASIER than dealing with firing Alice right now.
Admitting something’s wrong with you or your process.
I mean firing someone is a LOT of turmoil and work, isn’t it? First, you grind on it mentally, wondering, thinking, and hoping it will get better. Did you explain your expectations of Alice well enough? Or you will have to admit your hiring decision wasn’t the best, and at the very least you have some self-examination in store – if not a review of your entire hiring process.
Then you have to confront Alice, and that’s not going to be pretty. You’re ending her job, her income, her paychecks, and YOU are going to throw her life into turmoil. Maybe you like Alice as a person, and now she’s going to be upset with you. Maybe she’ll try to make you feel guilty. (Maybe she doesn’t HAVE to.) That doesn’t feel good at all, does it?
She might cause you trouble. Maybe she’ll file for unemployment. Maybe she’ll file a labor complaint with the authorities. Maybe she’ll talk badly about you or your company, and try to damage your reputation. Maybe she’ll go to work for a competitor and tell them your trade secrets.
And her work has to be done.
And who will do Alice’s job in the meantime? Now you have another problem to solve, don’t you? Others in her department? You? Will your customer service, billing, or office suffer in the short term?
And THEN, you have to take even MORE of your time to hire someone new and to train them. Ugh, it’s like going BACKwards, and that is SO FRUSTRATING! You should be doing YOUR work, strategizing, leading, and delegating. Well, get over it, because THIS is your job too!
All of these are fear-based reasons to NOT fire Alice.
So, you tell yourself, maybe this documentation and counseling will work, and it will get better, and all these problems and potential issues will go away. My problems will be solved and I’m on to the next thing that I want to do.
Sorry, but PROBABLY not. In my experience, this counseling and re-explaining expectations, and documenting doesn’t work, because there is more wrong than just Alice’s job performance. The problems run deeper, and your gut knows that, doesn’t it?
She knows it too.
And here’s a newsflash for you: Alice feels this too. She knows she’s not a good fit for you or your company, or the job for which you hired her. People want to do well for their employer. Generally they want to be happy and productive, and positive feedback is important to them.
But Alice isn’t getting that from her job, is she? She’s getting pressure, dissatisfaction, negative feedback, and certainly nothing positive. When you call her in for that final meeting, she will already know what’s going to happen, and somewhere, behind her fear and anger and worry, will be a tiny bit of relief that it’s over and she can move on to something that make her happier.
Do the hard thing.
So look back at all the time you’ve spent pondering, hoping, wondering, fretting, fearing, and do yourself and Alice a favor. The first time you think about firing her, do it as soon as you can. Make up your mind, put her on the fast track, get it through HR, and get her out. You’ll both be better off.
That’s decent and humane also – it’s just harder.