more-arw search

Q&A Forum

As a manager, how do you feel about firing people?

Matt Treat's Profile

Not layoffs, but actually letting someone go because he/she simply can’t perform their job correctly. Do you give the person multiple opportunities to improve, or do you make the decision quickly?


Sara Voight
Title: Controller
Company: Critical Signal Technologies, Inc
(Controller, Critical Signal Technologies, Inc) |

If this is a new(er) hire and they clearly are not capable of performing the job they were hired for, then you need to cut the ties quickly.

However, you also need to take a look internally to see if the position posted and interviewed for is really the one you were hiring for. You also have to look at your communication style and provide a reasonable amount of time to learn the business. Looking at yourself first to see if you are doing anything to hurt their chance of success not only helps with this hire, but any subsequent one.

If this is a long term employee, then it is responsible for you to document the issues and offer opportunities for improvement. Are you a new manager to the team/company, or did the philosphy change which highlighted this person's short commings? When you actually have to let them go, no one is surprised and they are often as relieved as you are.

Topic Expert
Regis Quirin
Title: Director of Finance
Company: Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP
LinkedIn Profile
(Director of Finance, Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP) |

If you are going to terminate anyone for a lack of performance, Document, Document, Document. If it is a new hire I usually make a decision within 90 days. By then you should know if a wrong decision was made.

After 90 days, I employ a three warning prior to termination approach. The first warning should include a plan to correct the shortcomings. One more point -- Document, Document, Document.

Somebody will inevitably comment that some states are "at will", allowing terminations with or without notice. This fact is true, but not bullet proof.

It never feels good.

Topic Expert
Keith Perry
Title: Director of Global Accounting
Company: Agrinos, Inc.
(Director of Global Accounting, Agrinos, Inc.) |

If I've got to terminate someone, I feel good about it. Really. It isn't working out, and that is not good for them or for the company. I've actually gotten feedback from people a year on with stories of "thanks for the counsel and guidance, you were right, I'm much happier." I'm immensely proud of that. Clarification: I do *not* feel good about the situation; I feel good about helping the person (and company) get to a better place. The situation is a bad one, and I blame the situation, not the person involved, for the need for action.

As to quick or slow, etc; I'm typically the person (at the start-ups I work) who handles the process. It starts with the complaint, from managers or peers, regarding performance. That needs to be analyzed in context; a basic root cause analysis should point you to the causes. Education? Interest? Outside issues? Management issues? I prefer an open dialogue with the employee in question; this is not always possible, but I prefer to have their input at this stage.

If there are drivers that say it is a quick action, such as the manager has been doing a good job of trying to resolve it and it isn't resolving, they yes: quick and to the point is the way to go. If there are issues beyond the employee, or if there are ways that the employee can be successful by changing some factors (job scope, management reporting chain), that is definitely preferable.

As to opportunities to approve: that should be based on your root-cause-analysis, and be set to a plan (say, 90 days to do X). You shouldn't be giving serial plans if they fail the first time...that would seem to make things worse.

And yes, document all of this. On balance you'll want a good release of claims (so technically you aren't firing them, they are quitting). If you can't get that, and in part to insure that you can, document properly. It doesn't have to be intense, long documentation. Just substantive evidence that you acted in good faith and that your decision was based on legally-justifiable grounds.

Bryan Frey
Title: VP Finance/Corp Controller
(VP Finance/Corp Controller, ) |

Hate doing it. Love it when it's done. As noted above, you only do this b/c you know it's right for the company. But that doesn't make the human interaction any easier. You are temporarily, at least, wrecking someone's life. That's not fun or easy. However, certainly better for all parties in the long run.

I make the decision slowly, giving chances to learn and improve. However, once the decision is made, I prefer the quick method.

Topic Expert
Randy Miller
Title: Partner
Company: CFO Edge
(Partner, CFO Edge) |

I really dislike terminating people. because at some level it means that the hiring process was flawed. However, it does happen.

When an employee is not performing, the first thing I look at is training. Did the training cover everything properly? Did we make sure he/she understood the job? Is more training needed? Is enough support being provided? Will more training help?

If training doesn't solve the problem, then is there somewhere else in the company this person can fit and excel? I am not trying to pawn off a problem, but I believe that at our level, we all know how to identify talent. And sometimes we bring people on board because they evidence so much talent that we don't want to let them get away. The result can be that you are trying to fit the right peg into the wrong hole. So is there somewhere else in the company where this person can shine?

If the answer is still no, then as Regis and Keith said: document and open dialogue. You need to resolve the situation as cleanly and on the best terms possible; and the quicker the better.

Irv Williamson
Title: Owner
Company: Growth Guidance Solutions
LinkedIn Profile
(Owner, Growth Guidance Solutions) |

Nobody likes firing people. But that's no reason to not take action. Employees that can't complete their job correctly (and I'm assuming they've been adequately trained and the job is actually doable) should not be kept on the payroll. Would you continue to give business to a supplier who can't deliver?

Make your intentions clear. Acting swiftly will minimize your pain and their distress. The more you drag out the decision the harder it will be for you, the employee, and your team. Under-performers are not a good cultural fit for your organization (certain government organizations aside), leaving them on the job any longer than necessary or moving to another department will be demoralizing to your super stars and is not in keeping your company values. This may sound cruel, but its managements responsibility to weed out the under performers. We are not here to nurse them.

Nobody said being the boss was going to be easy.

Topic Expert
Patrick Dunne
Title: Chief Financial Officer
Company: Milk Source
(Chief Financial Officer, Milk Source) |

Terminations can be fairly painless if you communicate with the individual what they need to do to meet your requirements for the role. After an appropriate amount of time, you will find that the termination takes care of itself. I have been on the wrong side of the tech bubble as well as a declining industry. After you have done enough of these, you find yourself strengthening the team. You do have to manage the remaining people or you will end up with more turnover than you want.

Robert Fetterman
Title: Chief Financial Officer
Company: Oneida Nation
(Chief Financial Officer, Oneida Nation) |

Letting people go has to be the most difficult action we take as managers, I think. It is a terrible feeling that someone and their family has to face no job tomorrow, starting a new job search with all that uncertainty. People feel hurt, inadequate, depressed.

On the other hand, as mentioned by others above, if done properly it can be a relief. My experience is most of the time it is not technical skill sets that is why someone is not working out, it is culture fit or changes in job expectations/goals.The more you communicate to someone why and specifically what needs to change, the better. It will help them if things don't work out understand it is not them, it is a fit issue, and there are other jobs where the fit will be better.

For you the boss, you never know if they can change until they are faced with having to change. I have been very surprised at how some people take this wakeup call to heart and make significant changes to adapt to the new reality or expectations, and become successful.

Tricia Havis
Title: General Manager
Company: Associated Background Check Inc.
LinkedIn Profile
(General Manager, Associated Background Check Inc.) |

I agree with Robert that in many cases the new hire, who appeared to be a good fit for the skills set and the corporate culture at the time of the interview, turns out be a misfit instead. I currently manage a background screening business in Texas (yes, one of those "at will" states) and there are rarely any positions or departments to move someone to if they do not fit in with the group/culture or do not have the exact skills, behaviors, and personality needed for the position. We fall under the "small business" category and only have two main departments--and those departments require different skills.

I usually make the decision within 30 days because I have found (through much trial and error, unfortunately) that either the new hire has it or they don't. We cannot afford to waste our time or theirs in trying to make the square peg fit into the round hole, so to speak. It never works out and the longer we drag it out under the guise of additional training and meetings and so forth, the harder it is when termination finally becomes inevitable. So we do it fast and move on. We do document the process, but we do not agonize over it. It never feels good because it means that, like others have stated, the hiring process was flawed in some way (or perhaps the person put on a really good show for the interview and testing process and managed to fool us into believing they could do it.) Sometimes I call it the "evil twin" syndrome -- I could swear the person who actually came to work wasn't the same person I interviewed, even though they look identical!

Cut your losses quickly and find the right person for the position. As soon as you come to the conclusion that the requirements are not there, it's time to start over.

Mario Philippou
Title: President & CEO
Company: Colorado Springs House Cleaning and Moun..
(President & CEO , Colorado Springs House Cleaning and Mountain Maids) |

I will usually let the employee know that they are not performing to the standard we expect and let them know that we will do additional training for 1 to 2 weeks with them to try and help them improve. We will then take the time to do additional training with the employee. If there is no improvement within a short period of time then they are not a good match and at this point they usually know it and expect to be let go. You can only carry a employee so far and then its time to move on. My experience is that often an employee who we hire and who is not capable of doing the job already knows that they do not know how to do the job but when they apply they will push their luck in the hopes that you will hire them and tolerate them while they "learn on the job". If you tolerate that then its up to you, for us if I hire a person who is "experienced" then I expect them to be up to the job.

Deepak Ernest
Title: Program Director
Company: SAP
(Program Director, SAP) |

Firing a person is really the last resort when due diligence in 1) hiring the right person for skills and culture fit and 2) Setting the right scope and challenge for existing employees and ensuring that goes hand-in-hand with the right training to be successful, fails.

Caught in time and managed proactively on the go would be the best situation where neither feels terribly bad and there is more understanding of the need to part ways.

Quite often a manager will face this situation with a new hire, in the first 6-8 months of their tenure with the company. Here it would usually be a case of hiring based on the perceived potential of the person which is then not realised as per the expectations during the hiring. Since a new hire is usually trained on induction, the question of re-training doesn't come up. The other remedy is to check for issues like fitting in with the company and/or team culture, acceptance in the team and role, etc. Ideally, there also shouldn't be a mismatch between what a candidate understands as the job he/she applied for and what they face once inducted into the company. Any gap here would be better addressed with refitting the person, if the expected job exists in the company or parting ways before there's damage to either party's experience.

In the case of experienced direct reports, the manager would normally face this after a reorganization when people are fitted to new jobs and teams. With a few reorganizations, the team and job of the employee could change so much that their performance suffers. In this case training, feedback and monitoring for improvement are the way to go. However this has to be time-bound and the employee needs to be aware of the purpose and timeline of the improvement measures so that they are in no doubt about the expected result, one way or the other.

In cases of experienced colleagues who are tapering off in performance in their existing roles, it would largely be a case of stagnating in their current roles and the warning signs would be there for an active manager to spot. A manager could avoid this with a challenging set of Objectives set upfront with these colleagues. The expectation is that with the envelope on their work scope and challenge pushed out further, they have the required training to be successful. This would avoid a case where a person stagnates and then remedial measures need to kick in.

Topic Expert
Mike Caruana
Title: Director of Financial Services
Company: Diamond Resorts International
(Director of Financial Services, Diamond Resorts International) |

I agree with Regis. Documentation is so important, and obviously not documentation for documentation's sake. I have found the most effective managers really engage struggling performers with the intent of improving performance so everyone can succeed.

It's hard to have 'courageous conversations' with team members, which is why so many managers avoid conflict instead of embracing it. Pat Lencioni spends a lot of time discussing this in his new book "The Advantage" because productive conflict is essential to a healthy organization.

I also agree that firing someone really needs to be the last resort after you've been unsuccessful working through the performance issues.

Topic Expert
Malak Kazan
Title: VP, Special Projects
Company: ERI Economic Research Institute
(VP, Special Projects, ERI Economic Research Institute) |

How an employee's performance is managed a reflection on the company's values as all employees involved are "watching" and realizing they could also potentially be on the receiving end. You want to avoid having a disgruntled employee and to Keith's point, it should be a "mutually" understood departure that is best for both parties. Address the issue as "efficiently" and effectively as possible. Having the performance issue "linger" sends a negative message to the rest of the employees who are performing well. If performance is managed effectively nothing should be a "surprise" as feedback should be on-going/continuous.


Get Free Membership

By signing up, you will receive emails from Proformative regarding Proformative programs, events, community news and activity. You can withdraw your consent at any time. Contact Us.

Business Exchange

Browse the Business Exchange to find information, resources and peer reviews to help you select the right solution for your business.

Learn more

Contribute to Community

If you’re interested in learning more about contributing to your Proformative community, we have many ways for you to get involved. Please email [email protected] to learn more about becoming a speaker or contributing to the blogs/Q&A Forum.