Firing an Employee – It’s Always Personal

If you have been a business owner or manager for any extended period of time, you have likely had to fire someone who just wasn’t working out.  There has to be something seriously wrong with any individual who enjoys this experience.  I never get very good sleep the night before.  However, this is an opportunity to “fail forward” and grow as an organization.

Every time I had to have “the conversation”, I took it very personally.  What did I miss during the interview process?  How can we improve our chances of finding the right fit?  Did we fail as an organization to provide the right training, management, or clarity?

Before I lose you, let me say that I do understand that there are times when employees surprise you or just have personal stuff that comes up affecting their performance.  However, if this is more the rule than the exception, you should change where you are fishing for employees.  You’re likely fishing in a cesspool!  If you claim that it goes with the territory for the labor rate you can afford, make sure you are factoring in the costs of training, higher unemployment tax rates, lower moral, interviewing replacements, and low customer satisfaction.

That said, employee terminations often speak more about failures in the organization than the individual being let go.  So, here are some things I’ve learned from first hand experience and ideas I’ve learned from others.

  1. Have a written job description.  I know this is basic, but you would be surprised how many hires are made without one.  It also needs to be detailed enough that it actually describes the specific job and not just any job.  What are the must-haves?  What is negotiable?
  2. Hire for BOTH technical ability AND cultural fit.  This assumes you have defined what “cultural fit” means.  If not, take time to define how your organization and the individuals within the organization behave.  (Read that last sentence again. If you don’t have those definitions written down, STOP now and do it. It’s that important.)  Also, know what technical and cognitive abilities will make the candidate a good fit for the organization.  What core values should this person posses?   Here are some questions Google uses to insure they get the best and brightest: http://www.gurucareersnetwork.com/blog/guru-news/googles-innovative-interview-questions/
  3. Put short-list candidates through a simulation.  Try to mimic the circumstances under which they will be working.  We suggested one client looking for support agents working in a stressful environment have candidates try to play a video game while answering phone calls and dealing with interruptions.
  4. Engage some of their potential team members in the final interview process.  With the new hire’s peers, technical ability will be suspect in the beginning, so they need to at least have some chemistry to see them through.  Invite the candidate to an office party or engage them in an activity or project with their potential team members.

In almost every case I’ve seen, the termination of a person who was not working out began with a broken hiring process.  As a business owner and manager, I dread the hiring process.  That’s all the more reason to get it right every time…or at least tip the odds strongly in my favor.

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