The Challenge of Letting a Team Member Go
It is never easy, nor should it be considered lightly when letting a team member go. Whether you are working with employees or even volunteers this question, is always challenging. You face the logistical hassles of finding a replacement, and the money and time spent on training the individual. But even more significantly you face the impact it will have on your team and your organization’s culture.
The other day while I was talking with a business executive, he shared a personnel matter. Then he asked me, “Bobby, should I fire _______?” I’m sure as a leader, you have posed that question to yourself.
When the situation arises, how do you answer that question? Do you go over a “pros and cons” list? Do you consider who could replace the individual and do a better job?
A Better Way
As that question swirled through my head, it triggered several memories of similar situations. I realized that, over time, I have changed my approach to such situations, and improved the results – for everyone involved! Here are a few thoughts from my personal experience:
Early on in my leadership journey, when I reached the “firing crossroads”, I would do a brief analysis of the person’s performance and other apparent factors, then quickly decide on whether it was “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” for the person in question.
But starting about 25 years ago, when I had a personnel matter, I changed my approach. I asked myself several questions, instead of turning my focus to the person in question. I chose to first do a self-examination instead of just firing the individual.
Rather than “Fire, Ready, Aim”, I chose “Aim, Ready (self-examination process), Fire (if necessary)”.
I would suggest the process of self-examination as a powerful tool in evaluating if we should let a team member go. We are reminded of that truth in Psalm 139:23 which states,
"Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!"
Don’t forget the power of looking at our hearts first.
Best-selling author, Jim Collins said, “First who, then what.” He went on to say…
“People are not your most important asset. — The right people are.”
The key point he was making was that the “who” question came before the “what” decisions – before vision, before strategy, before organization structure, before tactics. Hire the Right People.
Every leader can minimize mistakes in firing a team member by asking 10 questions.
10 Questions to Ask Before Letting a Person Go
Over time, I got better and better at my self-examination. I also used these questions to help other leaders faced with the same question, “Should I fire _______?”
1. What could have I done better and/or differently when I brought this person into our company?
2. During the interview process, did I not only ask the “what” questions (such as questions to clarify the facts represented on a resume), but did I also ask the follow-up questions, “how” and “why”? I have found that the “how and why” questions can uncover mindsets and behaviors that validate whether the person was the right or wrong person to join our team.
3. Did the interview/selection process lead me to conclude that the prospective employee had the right “4 Cs”?
- Character – Did their core values match ours?
- Competency – Did they have the ability to perform the job?
- Chemistry – Would they get along with our people?
- Capacity – Did the person have the ability to develop and grow beyond the job being offered into another roll or position?
4. Did I clearly express my expectations during the hiring process?
5. How well did I do with my onboarding (orientation) process?
6. Did I hire the right person, put them in the right seat on the bus, and have them do the right thing?
7. Did I clearly communicate to the new employee how their performance was going to be evaluated?
8. Did I give regular feedback on their performance and especially often during the early days of their employment?
9. When their performance fell short of my expectations, did I take them through a progressive discipline process?
10. Is there anything else that I should have done better and/or different with this employee?
I found that asking questions first and listening before I made statements (my pride would cause me to tend to want to talk first) helped me to better determine my next steps, for example: “Could you share why this happened?” or “Did you learn anything from this?”
Evaluating if Letting a Team Member Go is the Right Decision
I found that, if the person made a mistake but learned from their error, we now have a more experienced team member. They most likely will perform better in the future. Keep in mind, the fully loaded cost to hire and train a new employee has been reported to be between $20,000 and $30,000.
Depending on my answers to the questions above, I would determine my next steps. Often, this process helped me hone my leadership skills and allowed me to take strategic action to guide valued people toward continuing in their position in a powerful way.
I hope you’ll find some ideas above that will stimulate your thinking as you lead your team. Leading people is challenging and rewarding!
When you are faced with the possible firing of an employee, do you first go through a self-examination process? If so, could you share how it has worked for you?
Listen to our True North Leader Podcast with Chuck White, he shares leadership truths that ultimately lead to long-term employee satisfaction, retention, and organizational growth. It is guaranteed to challenge your leadership journey and help you with retention and team satisfaction.