I May Have to Fire an Employee. Any Suggestions?

Bigg Challenge
Rick has been a manager now for about six months. He has an employee who is under-performing. Rick thinks he may need to fire this employee, but he’s never done that before. He says he would welcome any suggestions we can provide.

Bigg Advice
Do you remember the Cheers episode where Norm Peterson became the executive’s executioner – his job was to fire people. So he took them out for drinks and, by the time it was done, the employee who was being fired felt sorry for Norm. Because as Norm once said,

“It’s a dog eat dog world and I’m wearing Milk Bone underwear.”

So there’s one option, but not one that we necessarily recommend for the real world!

Company procedures
Look to your company’s policy manual for guidance on how to proceed.  Also, discuss this with your boss so you fully understand company protocol and precedents.

No surprises

Except for the most egregious situations, you’ve done something wrong if it’s a surprise. To make sure they’re not surprised, you should follow a process. For example, issue a series of warnings with repercussions for not correcting the performance deficiencies

Round and round we go

Sit down with your employee and explain the problem. Discuss what needs to be done to correct it, tell him or her when you’ll review performance again, and outline the consequences if it’s not corrected (e.g. a 3-day suspension without pay).

At the scheduled time, repeat this process. This time the ramifications have to be greater. (e.g. termination of employment). So if you reach this review and the situation hasn’t improved significantly, the result should be obvious to your employee.

You’re giving them a chance to improve their performance and also covering your liability because you’ll document this entire process and have them sign off each step of the way.

An example

George said that in his early days in business, he was managing his field staff. They worked without direct supervision because they performed work at the customer’s home or office. George had hired a young man who just couldn’t work without ongoing oversight.

George went through the rounds outlined above with little improvement. Finally, he let the employee go. He recommended that this young man get a job in a place where someone could watch over him.

He encouraged the young man come back and reapply for employment once he got used to working in a supervised environment. That never happened because the young man found that he liked working with supervision better.

Firing someone doesn’t have to be negative. Offer any help you can provide. Make suggestions. And realize that sometimes it’s just not a good fit – it doesn’t mean they’re a bad person, or that they couldn’t be helpful to any employer. It just means it’s not working out for both of you here.

Thanks, Rick, for sharing your bigg challenge. We’re sure you’ll handle it just fine.

Related posts

The One Minute Manager and Corporate Layoffs

How to Offer Criticism Without Being Critical 

(Image by w00kie, CC 2.0)

6 replies
  1. Nick Schmidt
    Nick Schmidt says:

    Hey Rick. You could do what they did in Office Space. Just quit paying him, take way his red stapler, & put him in the basement. Then, maybe he will get the idea.

    No I’m just kidding. Its always a hard situation. I think when Jack Welch was the CEO of GE, they would tell the employee that they were fired. But they would help them find a new job and keep them on the payroll until they received a new job.

    So that example goes along with George’s example.
    I have never had to do it, hopefully I won’t need to.

  2. George and Mary-Lynn
    George and Mary-Lynn says:

    @Rick – we were happy to help. Thanks for asking us!

    @Nick – thanks so much for reminding us of the hilarity of the movie Office Space.Thanks for bringing up Jack Welch’s strategy. It’s always nice when the situation allows for this. Thanks for adding to the conversation!

  3. Julia Baker
    Julia Baker says:

    More often than not people are ‘let go’ because they don’t fit the job they are in. This can be an opportunity for the person doing the firing. Point out how the employee would be better suited in some other career or position and stress how the longer he was trapped in the job he is losing, the longer it would keep him from discovering his true potential.


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