Firing underperforming staff is a part of doing business.
Sometimes, you hire with the best intentions… but ultimately it’s just not a fit.
For many business owners, firing staff is an upsetting experience. For both parties involved!
At best, someone walks out with a sullen grudge.
At worst, tears and tantrums. (I’ve actually seen this - it’s not pretty.)
Last week I caught up for a few drinks with a couple of Opulence members who had recently gone through a pretty painful lesson around hiring (and firing) staff.
For years, they had operated as a ‘two-man-band’, working in partnership as co-directors. But around 8 months ago, they finally hired their first full-time business manager.
Naturally, the dream was to hand over the daily operations to the new manager. To have things run smoothly and seamlessly. To trust that the manager would do their job to the degree that was expected.
Long story short, things didn’t work out that way.
Mistakes were made on both sides, but ultimately the new manager wasn’t right for the job.
To make things worse, this hire was a personal friend of one of the business’ co-directors. All parties entered their arrangement with the best intentions. Nobody expected things to go toxic. But they did.
So eventually they had to fire their employee.
As you can imagine, as the employee was a (former) friend… emotions got involved.
And things got messy.
They told me, “Barry, firing our business manager felt like a relationship breakup.”
I get what they mean.
I’ll never forget the first employee I had to let go. Although I felt better once the Band-Aid had been ripped off, so to speak… the drama and carry-on was really painful.
Not to mention my anxiety leading up to The Firing Conversation. Crippling!
But thinking about it right now…
Looking back at every single staff member I’ve ever let go, firing them has always been 2 or 3 months overdue.
Because you know when someone’s not working out.
But you keep putting it off. You give them more resources to help them improve. You hope that things will change.
But they don’t. And you have to fire them anyway.
If you’re in that kind of limbo right now, knowing in your gut that you should fire someone, but putting off actually doing it…
I’ve found an approach that works quite well.
I sit down and have a conversation about THEM. I ask if they’re happy in their role. If they’re enjoying the work. If they feel they are fitting in with the culture of our business.
In short - I have a conversation with them from a place of LOVE, not JUDGEMENT.
By shifting the conversation from ‘you’re not performing’ to ‘how do you rate your own performance’... it’s not about blaming or finger-pointing.
I’m not having a go at them. I’m asking them how they honestly feel they’re doing in the role.
When the conversation shifts from being accusatory to inclusive, it’s very hard to get defensive.
And besides, employees know when they’re not doing so great.
When you decide they’re not footing the bill, they just feel it. Whether consciously or not.
So by having open honest conversations about how they’re *really* going, it opens the space for them to bow out gracefully and save face.
Which is much more preferable than the usual ‘shock and awe’ campaign where you tell them they’re fired, and it hits them out of nowhere, and then they feel wronged, and then the battle-axes come out!
Try it next time you have to let someone go.
And let me know the difference in their response!