How To Fire Someone
So, it’s time to fire someone. It's often the case that it's nice being the boss, the team leader, the manager. There’s plenty of cool stuff it brings to the table, but there are a few responsibilities that aren’t so pleasant. In over ten years managing teams, remote and local, having to fire someone tops the list.
And yet, you know it’s the right thing to do. You have your reasons. It could be that this person…
• Is not needed anymore. The company changed, and they have no place in it.
• Doesn’t mesh well with the team.
• Doesn’t fit into the company culture.
• Is inadequate at their job.
Whatever the case, they need to go. They’re dragging the rest down, and that’s not acceptable. And guess what? It’s your job to do it.
I mentioned above that I’ve been doing this for a decade. Guess what? It never got any easier! But I was fortunate enough to learn from my bosses how to do it better. So in this post, I’ll share the tips, tricks, and procedures of how to fire someone in a way that:
• Feels fair to both parties.
• Stings your soon-to-be-ex-employee as little as possible.
• Lets you sleep at night.
Of course, our area of expertise is remote work. I’m writing this with remote employees in mind. But you’ll find that the practicalities are as applicable to local people as well.
Sort Out The Logistics Before You Fire Someone
There are some questions that you need to ask yourself. The chief one being “How can I make this as right as possible for my employee.” Yes, that’s right. No matter how hard and unpleasant this is for you, you’re not the one losing his or her job. So approach it from a place of empathy. First up, think compensation and deliverables.
In the best case scenario, your contract will make clear to both parties what to expect. But life is rarely so clean. Sometimes, you need to cut your loses, and it doesn’t make sense to keep someone until the end of the month. There might be no provision in your contract for that. In this case, I recommend you look at the employees’ deliverables. Has she accomplished her goals for the month? Does it make sense to keep her until she does?
(As an aside, make a mental note - actually, a physical note, on a fluorescent pink post-it stuck right in the middle of your screen - saying: WRITE BETTER CONTRACTS)
(As a second aside, you avoid a lot of headaches related to the above if you work with a hiring agency that handles contracts and HR. Hello, that’s us, DistantJob!)
If the answer is “No,” then work out something that you think is fair for both parts. Base it on what she delivered and what she’s expected to produce until she leaves.
Why not let her finish doing whatever she is doing? Assuming that she does a decent job, there is still a reason for terminating as fast as possible. That reason is the “dead man walking” syndrome.
It doesn't matter how professional your employee is about leaving. Having to interact daily with someone that is going brings team morale down. So be like a samurai in those old Japanese flics - cut fast and cut clean, with one strike. Anything else will cause needless suffering for everyone involved.
So what can you do if it’s a position that can’t be empty for long, or at all? You need to do some hiring before the firing. This is less than ideal.
You have the option to be sneaky about it and hire as an addition to the team. You can also try to hide the hiring process as much as possible, but I have trouble sleeping at night when doing this. It’s painful to see someone working while unaware of the sword of Damocles edging ever closer to her neck. I prefer to let the employee know about the decision before starting the hiring process.
Yes, there will be a dead man (or woman) walking among the team, and that sucks. Given a choice, it’s better to have a dead man that knows their fate and can prepare for it, over a clueless walking dead. Plus, it's better that your employee hears it from you than by stumbling across it on their own. No matter how good you think you are at keeping secrets, the word always gets out.
As for the team, they should never get to know before the employee. Some people will because it is unlikely you’ll be deciding on your own. But the majority of the team should only be told after your employee knows.
And this is part of “The Conversation.” You should ask the person leaving how they would prefer to handle it - do they want the team to know? Do they want to tell them themselves? Or would they instead do a Houdini, and disappear one day? Some of these might not be possible depending on the employee’s position and team dynamics. In general, though, allow them to exit the stage in a way with which they’ll be comfortable.
Finally, there’s the matter of security. Revoke any access to critical company documents and information minutes before the talk. This is the digital equivalent of “Security will escort you out of the building.” For the rest, figure out a clear cut-off point and tell them during “The Conversation." This is the “We will set a date for you to come and clear your desk.”
“The Conversation” - A Script For When You Have To Fire Someone
Before the conversation starts, be sure to check your posture. Don’t try to appear relaxed and cool - that’s not respectful. At the same time, don’t look strict or detached. That’s no good, either. Remember: approach this from a place of empathy and compassion.
This person isn’t bringing enough to your team and business. They need to go. That’s a fact. Knowing this, let’s endeavor to do it without any needless suffering. Your body language plays a huge part in that. When talking about remote employees, that means that you must use video. Resist the temptation to fire someone over the phone. It will be easier, yes. But you’ll feel bad in the long run.
Once you sit down, avoid pleasantries. That drags on unpleasant anticipation. Unless someone is completely clueless, they most likely know they are in trouble. Get straight to the point.
“Look, [name], we both know this isn’t working out. I asked you to come talk so we can decide on a way to part in good terms, as we can’t keep you working with us.” Is a script you can take and adapt as you need, depending on your specific situation.
There are a couple of significant components, mind. Notice how the first part makes the employee a partner in the conversation as best as possible. “We both know.” “So we can decide.” At the same time, there’s no BS - “We can’t keep you working with us.” That leaves no margin for doubt. It’s clear and concise, a samurai’s sword slash when compared to the Trumpian cudgel: “You’re FIRED!”
So where do we go from here?
Well, try to be as helpful as possible.
“Try to be helpful? I am firing this person!”
Yes, we’ve been through this. You are. And it sucks. I was here three paragraphs ago, you know? Let’s move on past the self-loathing and try to be of some service to the person who lost her/his job.
The best way you can do so is to offer immediate support in their job search. This is super easy if you’re firing them for reasons other than their competence.
You can offer them a recommendation letter. This is a standard practice of mine. At times, I’ve worked with great people that I’ve had to let go because the company was shifting directions. It was the most natural thing in the world to write them a letter filled with genuine praise. As often as possible, I would top it up with testimonials in their portfolios and work profiles. And if you can introduce them to a potential employer, do it.
Sure, the stars won’t often align like that. But when they do, you’ve turned a miserable situation for two people into happiness for three. That’s… pretty magical.
So what to do if you are getting rid of the person because they aren’t very good at their job? This is a harder position from where to offer help, but it’s not hopeless.
First, consider that although the person was not a fit for your business, they might be for someone else’s. If you’ve spent any time in any industry, you’ll know that some people have lower standards. Some companies operate fine like that. A recommendation letter - not so glowing; you want to be always honest - may still be in the cards.
At the very least, even if your now-former employee made a mess of things, you can point out a couple of strengths. Throw your frustrations away and consider the person in front of you. No-one is completely worthless. Try harder.
Another way you can improve someone’s chances, especially if they didn’t perform to your expectations, is by giving them feedback. There are two things that you must always keep in mind when you thread down this path:
• Make sure they want your feedback. Ask them! Do not, in any situation, offer unsolicited input to the person you fired. That’s not cool.
• Make sure they understand that this feedback is for their benefit. It is in no way a second chance; there's no going back on the decision to fire them.
Then, say what you have to say about their performance. Keep in mind that they will be in a state of mind that can range from anger to tearful sadness. So, don’t belabor any points, and go light on the adjectives - they tend to rub people the wrong way. Be like those special forces teams from the movies - get in, give your feedback, get out.
If all the above fails, at least let them know that you are committed to making their exit as painless as possible. Then, start hashing out the details of that means.
Steel Thyself Before You Fire Someone
So all the above is well and good, but what about the nightmare scenario? What do you do when your employee breaks down in tears as soon as you tell them the news? What if they get angry and jump at you? Go out, take an art degree, and build a giant phallus that they then offer to your town hall, naming it after you?
Well, about that last one… Sorry, you’re on your own. :/
But I can help you with the others!
So it starts back at the beginning of this article, with preparation. All that I’ve written so far was aimed at making sure you were prepared to get to this delicate point. Especially the point about having empathy and compassion.
And no, I’m not going all soft on you. My baby sister describes me as “Having a heart as cold as ice, and it’s *black* ice.” So I’m not a guy who defaults to stuff like “empathy and compassion.”
But you know what? If you want to be the best at your craft, you need to have intimate knowledge of all the tools. And if you manage people, empathy and compassion are two of the tools. There are a lot of other tools, sure, and a heart of cold, black ice also comes handy at times. If you want to be great at what you do, you need to tame them all.
Be an emotional anchor. If someone starts crying, give them a reasonable amount of time to get it out of their system. Two minutes of silence usually do the trick. It will feel like an eternity, but it’s surprising how people recompose themselves when they don’t see the other person offering any input.
Only offer a tissue when you see the tide receding - any earlier will prompt further crying. You’ve brought tissues, right? Did I forget to include that in the logistics phase? I hope you’re not following this guide on-the-fly.
If they’re going on too long, start talking. Keep an even tone; don’t try to talk over their crying. Doing that will intimidate them. Go through your script, talk about how the process is going to happen. They will - after a while - stop crying because they want to hear what you're saying. Then, start over as soon as it’s obvious they are paying attention. Maintain a relaxed body language through it all.
Aggressiveness is much less common. People get aggressive when they feel disrespected and mistreated. They should feel none of that if you’ve followed this guide thus far.
Still, if for some reason you feel intimidated by the person, the best way to handle it is to do the firing with a colleague. Having someone else present will dissipate aggression.
Also, do what you can to broaden your body posture. No arms resting on your legs; have them on top of the table. Sit up with your spine straight, and look the person in the eye while talking. You don't want to appear aggressive yourself - calm and comfortable is what you're aiming for.
But you know what? You should have hired a remote employee! :) What’s the worst they can do? Post a mean gif? Rage-quit the Skype call?!
Speaking of which, you almost never need to fire remote people. That's because they over-perform and over-deliver on a consistent basis. And if you need to do it anyway, DistantJob makes it easy. Because our unique process is all-inclusive - we don’t just get you a fantastic remote employee, we also take care of his/her payment and HR needs. Sounds interesting? Get in touch.