One of the dirtiest jobs of being the boss is making the decision to fire someone. No matter how much the employee deserves it, or how necessary it is for your organization to move on, it never feels good to tell someone you are taking their job away, especially during one of the worst times to secure a new job in U.S. history. Letting someone go is like kicking his legs out from under him.
Still, it happens and is necessary. But where most employers fall short is failing to take the time to learn valuable lessons from issuing a pink slip. Perhaps you could have avoided this or perhaps you let a bad situation go on too long.
Each time you fire someone, consider the following to ensure you learn the valuable lessons from the experience:
It may have actually been you, not him. When a child doesn't succeed at something, there is almost always some culpability on the parents’ role in the outcome. Same with a manager. An employer is responsible for setting expectations and guidelines for employees, so there is some blame there when employees don't succeed. While I’m not letting any employee off the hook from owning where he fell short, nor am I blaming any manager for every employee’s failure, there may have been something you could have done better as that employee’s leader. Admitting your mistakes to yourself is necessary for avoiding making the same ones again in the future.
What we have here is a failure to communicate. If the employee was shocked when you delivered him the bad news, perhaps you weren’t managing the situation. As uncomfortable as it may be for you to provide honest and ongoing feedback, it is your obligation to your staff to make sure you communicate with them regularly so they know where they stand with you and with the organization. If they don’t know they are underperforming, how can they improve? Perhaps you did deliver the message but the employee still had a stunned look on his face when you showed him the door. Consider how you can better communicate going forward to give your employees the best chance at succeeding. If then they don’t, then your instinct to part ways might be the right move.
You let this go on longer than it should have. Many managers avoid pulling the trigger when they have to let someone go. Mostly it’s because they don’t want to deal with it, which seems like the easy way out. In truth, delaying the inevitable did not make firing the person easier. In fact, it might have done more damage to your relationship with that employee, your relationship with other employees and your organization by allowing that person to stay put as long as you did.
Related: When It's Appropriate to Micromanage
The employee may have been better than you thought. It’s so common for underperforming employees to be shown the door when in fact the opportunity to reassign her a new role would have been the best solution. Not every employee is meant for every job, but there is value in holding onto employees who know your company, who perhaps have some amount of loyalty to you and your organization, and who don’t require a transition period to get used to your firm’s culture. Next time, perhaps consider that an underperforming employee is in the wrong job and then look for opportunities to reassign her before showing her the door.
Ask yourself if you allowed a personality clash to get in the way. This, too, is so common. Here’s the scenario: Two employees are underperforming and everyone in the firm (or department) knows it. The one who is struggling more, who gets along well with the boss, stays and the one who isn’t struggling as much performance-wise but who the boss doesn’t like personally goes. While personality alliances are important in business, sometimes throwing away an employee because you don’t like her personally is like cutting your nose to spite your face and can have a negative impact on your firm’s (or department’s) culture. It’s business, not personal, remember? And you’re the boss. So rise above the pettiness and find common ground even with employees who you would not choose to be friends with outside of the office. The employee who you like the least might actually be your firm’s greatest asset.