There. I said it.
At the risk of offending some readers, I need to say it:
Most companies should fire more people.
Understand, I’m an executive recruiter. I specialize in helping business leaders find and hire great employees–not fire people.
But when I speak with clients about their hiring needs, it often becomes clear that a big reason they need to hire top-performers is because they have too many mediocre-to-poor employees who are holding back the organization and undermining overall performance.
Put simply, if these organizations hope to build a first-class workforce, they need to discharge or find more productive roles for their underperforming employees. If they don’t, they’ll struggle to retain strong performers and never achieve their organizational potential.
Yes, firing is hard.
For most of us, it’s the most painful thing we have to do in business.
But here’s the stark truth: Firing is one of the most important things we have to do as leaders.
Bad Hires and Underperformers
Why is it so important to fire more people?
First, about 50% of new hires fail. Those who don’t leave on their own will drag down other employees and never become strong performers.
You can’t afford to look the other way when you make a hiring mistake. We all make them.
Second, 66% of U.S. workers are disengaged, according to Gallup. Some are completely miserable; others are happy to do the bare minimum and collect a paycheck.
In my view, these employees need to be challenged to improve their performance or face the prospect of termination.
Here’s how to do it in a humane way:
Identify weak performers: Institute a policy of frequent and honest feedback to your employees. Managers need to know exactly who is overperforming and who is underperforming at all times. So do employees.
Telltale signs that a person is in trouble include:
- Goals are not being met and the person is missing deadlines.
- The quality of the work is substandard.
- The employee is not working well with others in the organization.
- The employee’s behavior and work style are at odds with the company culture.
At the first (not the tenth) sign of a performance problem, you should call the person into a meeting to discuss the situation.
Is the issue performance or DNA match? Determine whether the issue is a lack of skills or whether there is a big mismatch between the personality and characteristics of the employee and the culture of the organization or, what I call, DNA.
Lack of skills, competencies and experiences can be solved through training, coaching and exposure to different business situations. Of course, the business needs may be so pressing that you don’t have time to wait for the person to develop into a competent performer. You’ll have to decide that on a case by case basis.
On the other hand, if there is big discrepancy between the DNA of the organization and the individual, you probably need to let the person go–particularly if they manage others. DNA is hardwired; it can’t be taught.
Give them a chance: State your concerns and make clear that the employee must focus on improving their performance. Agree on some short-term deliverables and provide coaching to get the person on the right track.
Check in frequently.
If the employee’s performance does not change for the better, clearly state that their lack of improvement is a serious issue and they must turn things around or face the prospect of dismissal.
Throughout this process, be very direct about the issues, set clear and measurable goals for improvement and record everything in writing. Your clarity and urgency about the situation may provide the employee with the insight and motivation to transform their performance.
Make a decision: Ultimately, you want to determine if the person has the desire and skills to do the job and if their performance has improved sufficiently to justify retaining them in their current position.
Facing the reality that you must fire a colleague after investing a great deal of time and effort to help them raise their performance is one of the toughest things you have to do as a manager–particularly if the person had been a great employee for years.
Endeavor to understand what’s at stake for everyone involved and what you’re trying to accomplish as an organization. Yes, be fair to the employee. But also, be fair to the rest of the company.
If you decide to discharge the person, be brief, direct and firm. There’s no need to rehash everything that led to the decision. The meeting should take no more than five minutes (and always in private.)
Speak with your team: After the termination meeting, notify the rest of your team that the person is leaving and make arrangements for their work to be handled by others until a replacement has been hired (or preferably, promoted.)
Most of the time, your team will have a pretty good idea about why the person was fired. You may find people come up to you afterwards and ask you: “What took you so long?”
Be Humane To Everyone
It’s important to fire people in a humane and compassionate way. You do that for the sake of the person being fired, but also for the sake of the entire organization and for yourself as a human being.
And no, I never use the word “fire” except in cases where the individual grossly violated company policy.
Many people bounce back after being fired and build great careers in jobs they like better and with organizations that are more compatible with their personalities. I’ve had countless staff members call me months or years later to thank me for being honest with them.
But always remember, there’s no excuse to tolerate poor performance in an organization. While firing is unpleasant, discharging underperformers will help to create a stronger workforce and a more successful organization.
Far more often than not, it’s the best thing for everybody.
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