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You're Dismissed

Face it--part of your job is relieving others of theirs. So how do you do it right?

Firing an employee is a messy business. Just the thought of having to recruit, train and manage a new sales soul is enough to keep some sales managers from following through with the task. But holding on to a salesperson who's not performing or who's disruptive to the team is guaranteed to exacerbate matters down the road.

But how do you know when it's time to say "you've gotta go"? It's simple, according to Tricia Tamkin: "Lack of production, lack of production, lack of production," says the president of Padigent, a Carol Stream, Illinois, human resources consulting firm for emerging companies.

Dave Anderson, president of Dave Anderson's Learn to Lead, concurs that performance is one criterion for firing. Anderson, whose Los Altos, California, company offers sales, management and leadership consulting, thinks reps who are "dishonest, selfish or disrespectful" should face the axe.

You may fear firing a rep will cause a morale dip in the troops. After all, someone's buddy is getting shown the door. But making a tough choice can bolster the spirits of your sales squad. Says Tamkin: "Firing can positively affect morale [because] it sends a message that the company will take strong measures to ensure the success of the organization. Poor performers lower the morale of the team, and they continually break momentum and diminish the credibility of the sales manager."

Before firing, however, steps must be taken to legally protect your business. It's crucial that the employee has been warned in advance in writing. Coaching sessions with failing salespeople will help protect you when it comes time to separate. Tamkin advises that documentation must be developed in advance of the firing, and that when it comes time for the employee to go, the manager should conduct an exit interview.

Though firing will never be a savory part of a manager's job description, it's short-term pain for long-term gain. "Managers have to realize that when they keep the wrong person," Anderson says, "there's more damage to the company than just lack of production."

Here are some firing guidelines from William Skip Miller's ProActive Sales Management (AMACOM):

1. Never in your office: If it's your office, you can't leave if the employee wants to stay and talk.

2. Short and sweet: As you walk in the door, say, "The reason I'm here is to tell you this is your last day of employment with this company." Just get it out.

3. Never on a Friday: If fired on a Friday, the employee can't start the process of feeling good. All he or she can do is stew about it over the weekend.

4. Outside help: If the employee says he or she has consulted an attorney or other legal counsel, stop the conversation immediately and consult your HR department or attorney, whoever helped you craft your company policy.

5. No hanging around: Personal effects can be retrieved, but have the person leave the building.


Kimberly L. McCall is president of McCall Media & Marketing Inc. (www.marketingangel.com), a business communications company in Durham, Maine.

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This article was originally published in the March 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: You're Dismissed.

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