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When Should I Fire an Employee?

A couple weeks ago, I had lunch with a local CEO that was going back and forth over firing an employee. She was reluctant for two reasons: the employee was in a key position and she was worried what impact it would have on the organization and senior team. Also, the employee had been loyal. It is a situation where there is no longer a “fit.”

Last week, I ran into another local CEO who told me he had hired two university students only to have to fire them because they had violated a number of company policies.

My column this month is about the challenge and decision making involved in firing an employee once that individual is no longer a good fit, or the position has outgrown the person. I hope you, as a manager in your organization, understand the importance of a swift and consistent need to terminate any employee who violates a company policy.


No one gets hired into a position for life.


With the exception of a spouse, I don’t think there is any expectation that any decision we make is for life. Why should we, as managers, feel any different about the employees we hire? We assume our new hires will fill the open position and that, over time, they will grow and move up in the organization. Realistically, if any employee hired is still in the same role, with the same responsibilities after three years, you need to ask yourself if the employee will be a high performer for the organization going forward. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that individual should be fired, just that he or she most likely won’t be a star employee.


But what if your organization is growing?


In my example above, I said that just because the employee is still in the same position, performing the same responsibilities, that is no reason to fire the individual. But what if your organization is growing? What if the technology or the skill set required to perform the role changes and evolves?

First, we as executives running the organization are responsible for making sure our employees are getting the proper training and development in order to grow with the organization and the role or position. But the employees shouldn’t just rely on the company to keep them current. We should always take responsibility for ourselves.

But what do you do if the organization or the job has outgrown the employee who has failed to grow with it? In my opinion, it is best to let that person go. You may think that I’m being harsh, but if you are running any organization (or department), it is your responsibility to make sure you have the best team possible. I once terminated an employee because he continued to live in the past and wasn’t growing as the organization was. The day I terminated him, he angrily drove away. A week later he dropped by my office and thanked me for firing him. He told me he needed the kick in the butt, and that after some soul searching realized he needed to make changes in his life.

Whatever you do, don’t tell the employee that you are bringing in someone over them and reducing his or her role and responsibility. Make sure you always show respect for the employee, and don’t make that person look bad or deficient in the organization.


What if an employee is too important to let go right now?


This is the No. 1 excuse I hear from managers as to why they won’t terminate someone: they are just too important right now. A related excuse is: things are just too busy right now.

If indeed the employee is no longer the right fit, or the role has outgrown the individual, it doesn’t matter how busy or important the person is. Don’t use excuses for not properly managing your organization. I have never said to myself, “I fired that employee too soon.” I hear just the opposite in almost all cases from managers, saying they should have done something sooner.

If you as the manager are seeing issues, I guarantee so are the members of the team. Don’t be surprised to see the rest of the team “step up” and carry the excess load once you terminate the employee. Here’s something else you might hear: the other employees asking what took you so long, and how can they help cover the work while you backfill the position.


If you think you have an employee who is no longer a fit, or is in a role that has outgrown that person, do the right thing and remove the individual from the role. Just as important is to be respectful in how you treat the employee.

As we approach Christmas and the holiday season, don’t forget to remember your employees. It doesn’t have to be a big party or even an expensive gift. A simple hand-written note to let them know they are appreciated will go a long way. FBN


By T Paul Thomas


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