Navigating the Tough Conversations

Bill delves into the complexities of employee termination, addressing the importance of approaching such situations with empathy and respect. Drawing from his own experiences, he shares practical strategies and best practices that can help employers and managers handle terminations in a manner that preserves dignity and minimizes negative impact.

6/7/20234 min read

woman signing on white printer paper beside woman about to touch the documents
woman signing on white printer paper beside woman about to touch the documents

Welcome to advice from a CEO. I've had the opportunity to manage hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of employees. Been a CEO partner for the last 15 years. I've been just a partner in a business, president of a company. Everything I'm sharing this is what's worked for me. Today, we're talking about how to fire someone. And it's by far the worst thing.

If you've ever fired somebody, you know what I'm talking about. Because you really care for the person. You hired them. And for whatever reason, it's not working out. And so it's never easy because the person's failed, right? And you have to be the one to tell them that. And this is not an easy thing to do. But you can make it a lot easier for yourself. From my experience, again, this is just what's worked for me is obviously if they do something immoral, illegal, it's super easy, right? It's just, you know, whatever. You stole, you're done. Nothing more to talk about.

If they're not performing, the first thing, in my opinion, you should do, there's a great term that I learned from my brother-in-law who was in the NRA, which is an after-action report. And so what I mean by that is just to look back to say, okay, you hired this person, you thought they were gonna be amazing, they get in the role and they're struggling mightily. What went wrong in your hiring process? I really look at the hiring process and go backwards and say, all right, what worked well, what didn't work so well, then now I'm here.

Because you've got to solve that. You've got to figure that piece out to become a company that hires better teammates. You're going to spend the majority of your day with these people. You want amazing people, so you really want to take your time in hiring these folks. And so with that, whenever it's time to hire somebody, whoever was involved in the process, I really hope you're going back to look on, look back at what happened and say, how do I improve this? If you're not doing a personality test, I would highly recommend that. If you are doing a personality test, are you benchmarking it? Are you benchmarking it against your best in that department, the best in that function, to really say this is the type of person that will really excel in this position at my company. I hope you're doing that. Are you getting recommendations? Are you calling the references? You know people are going to put amazing references but there's a great book out called Who. I would highly recommend it and incorporate it into your hiring process. So back to firing. Using the example that the person's not performing, I would really, really hope that you're talking to this person along the way.

So, the worst thing you can do is they're not performing, you don't say anything, they're not performing, you don't say anything, they're not performing, you don't say anything, and finally you get to your limit and you say, I hope that's not the case. If, in my opinion, when you're terminating somebody, you've had many conversations, many conversations about their performance, including what I would call a decision-making day. What a decision-making day is in my book is you pay them, you send them home, and you ask them to go think about whether or not they want to continue to work here.

And if they do, they understand what's expected of them, and if they don't, that's okay. Right? You got one life. You might as well do something you love. And if it's not working for this company, well, let's go find you the right spot to go work in. And so by the time you get to the time in which you're going to have to fire somebody, I personally have never used those words. Typically, I'll always say the company is going to go in a different direction. I just like that term. I think it's less in their face. But there's no surprise on the other side of the table, right? Because you've talked to them along the way. And then, of course, you treat them like a human. If you're able to with your finances, typically world to provide notice. So as an example, notice would mean, let's say it's the first of the month, say, hey Brian, John, Sally, whatever, Sarah, on the 15th we're gonna have to let you go. This isn't working. The company is gonna head in a different direction. Typically I don't get into arguments because I've talked to them about the metrics, right? So I don't need to bring up the metrics again because I brought it up and if I'm doing my job, I've brought it up at least three times.

So if this isn't happening, obviously I always like to make sure that it's laid out of what the expectations are. And so I've had those conversations. So we get to the decision-making lead. They come back. They say they want to stay. They say, great, this is what's expected of you, they don't do it, I grab Sally, John, Matt, Sarah into my office and say, you know, we've agreed, these were the metrics, it didn't happen, the company's going to go in a different direction, your last day is going to be on the 15th. So they automatically get two weeks of notice and you're like, Bill, are you crazy? They'll stop working and start looking for a new job. Is that okay? Maybe. Depends what they're doing. Obviously, if they're doing something that has to be done that day, that's not okay. If you are able to provide some flexibility within their actual core job function, maybe that's okay. And then typically, rule of thumb, back of the napkin is give them severance they've been there. I hope that helps. I've done it certainly wrong plenty of times. Again this is just all what's worked for me in my past. I never read a book on how to fire somebody and so I've got more lashes that I'd ever care to show you in terms of how to do it wrong. And so I guess my hope is that you can start doing it what I believe to be the right way. Hopefully it works for you.