Why Firing Some of Your Employees Could Be the Best Thing You Can Do for Your Business
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The following excerpt is from Jeffrey Hayzlett’s book The Hero Factor: How Great Leaders Transform Organizations and Create Winning Cultures. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Apple Books | IndieBound
Most people and companies don’t start off wanting to be asshats. No one wakes up in the morning and says, “I can’t wait to be stupid.” No one walks into their office and says, “You know, today I’m going to screw everybody and go through people like they’re disposable. I’m going to lie and cheat everyone and take as much money as I can for me.” The fall usually comes from temptation, desperation, or hubris, and usually over time. Even Bernie Madoff was in business for almost two decades before his Ponzi scheme took shape. Then he changed his business model to one that served no one but him.
OK, that’s a low-lying fruit example of a person and his company failing to value others. But there are smaller stories that go viral every day that should force companies to reconsider their cultures and whether they value all people, especially their customers. The Starbucks manager who called the cops on two black men in Philadelphia. United Airlines dragging a passenger off an overbooked flight for refusing to give up his seat. Comcast changing a customer’s name on a bill from Ricardo Brown to Ass**** Brown when he canceled his cable subscription. While these customer fails may have been perpetrated by some bad apples, the expression holds true: That apple doesn’t fall far from the tree -- or in this case, the culture.
Bill Wallace, founder of Success North Dallas, once reminded me, “Keep in the back of your mind that the culture is defined by the worst possible behavior you, as a CEO, will allow from any one employee or member. Take immediate action to correct the situation or to remove the situation. You’ve got to move forward and remove those that don’t fit.”
Which brings up a couple of important points when it comes to letting people go:
- There are people you must let go because of bad actions.
- There are people you must let go because they don’t fit with the culture anymore.
I have deep respect for leaders and organizations that take immediate action to let an employee go when they have a problem that can’t be coached out or corrected. I hold even deeper respect for leaders who let people go because the fit just isn’t right. Unable to coach people up or out, they make the hard decision to let the person go. Often, that decision turns out to be best for both the team culture and the person being let go. For example, I once had to let go a manager at a franchise I owned. He was only a few years younger than I was at the time, and no matter what I tried, it just wasn’t working out. At first, he was really ticked off about it. But I told him honestly, “Look, this isn’t the right fit for you, and you’re going to be miserable. I know you don’t see it now, but it’s going to be the right thing.” Fast-forward a few years, and a friend told me he ran into the guy. Oh, and? “He says that you were one of the best people he ever worked for. And that experience was one of the best experiences in his life and helped him go to the next level.”
I like the way Jim Bennett, president and founder of the CFO and financial consulting services firm Now CFO, talks about holding people to the highest standards: “As my business has grown; a lot of folks have come and gone,” he says. “It’s interesting now: They either fit within our culture or they don’t. And the ones that fit have a very high bar of what they’re going to do and accomplish, and if they don’t have that high bar, they don’t like hanging around us. My personal goal is to help people realize the potential that we see in them. Find a little more of themselves. If a person can go home at night and realize that they achieved more than they believed in themselves, it’s really fantastic to see how much better they feel about themselves, and yet you get to see them grow, too. That’s a culture of moving forward.”
Exactly! The key is excellence in moving forward. That’s why I hold the utmost respect for those leaders who let go longtime employees who haven’t been doing anything morally, ethically, or legally wrong but have simply been coasting, getting decent results, but not having to do half the things required of new hires. People they might even like or be friends with. People who haven’t evolved with you no matter how much you tried. Lone wolves who couldn’t care less about being more inclusive, doing things differently, collaborating, or sharing with anyone else.
These people affect the feel of the culture for others, and the solution is the same for them as for any other employee: Coach them up, coach them into a new position, or coach them out. You can’t be inclusive while excluding some people based on who they are or what they believe. You can get rid of a person -- an individual -- if the fit isn’t right, if the steps you’ve taken to try to make it work are documented.
Now look around your office, take a hard look at your people, and ask:
- Does each person fit the culture of the company?
- Does each person serve the values and goals of the company?
- Has each person evolved as your company and its values have evolved?
- What are the differences between the people who’ve been with you the longest and the shortest amount of time? Do you expect the same things of them?