How to Fire Someone

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Strategy, accounting, coding… nothing is as tough as firing someone. This is probably the most dreaded activity for most managers. It was also one of the haziest subject areas when I first started my role as a COO; I had no clue how to deal with it. After conferring with some great mentors and having to deal with firing a couple of times, I’ve learned some points on how to handle it properly. It certainly does not get easier, but here are some of the tips that I learned:

1. Make it expected

When you need to end a teammate’s relationship with the company, it should not be a surprise. That is because before getting to that point, you should:

  • Meet with the teammate and discuss the issues they are having
  • Clearly lay out the objectives they must meet to improve and stay on the team
  • Explain that if these objectives are not met, they will not be able to remain on the team

Keep in mind, if this person is definitely not the right fit for the team, you can provide objectives that they will not likely meet, such as major changes in attitude and personality. When they inevitably do not change, you can point to the warning and have a clear reason for getting to the point of termination.

2. Have specifics

You need to have highly specific reasons for terminating the business relationship, not just “you have been doing bad work.” Instead the reasons should be “You have been 20 minute late 5 times in the past month” or “your sales numbers are 30% below our targets.” This is why it is so important to have clear Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)… you know exactly where you want to be, and if performance is not there, you have a clear reason to make changes.

3. Schedule a time & place

Try to do any terminations at the end of a pay period (usually at the end or middle of the month) and have the teammate’s final paycheck ready at the meeting. It is best to have the meeting in a private setting first thing in the morning. The office conference room is a solid spot, and remember that you and a colleague should be present at the meeting… don’t do it alone.

4. Be honest & get to the point

When you sit down for the meeting, you will be incredibly nervous. The hardest part is the first sentence, so you must get to it immediately. No beating around the bush or small talk, it just makes the whole thing more difficult. I’d recommend saying (credit to Kevin Wang for helping adjust this sentence):

“Unfortunately, things just aren’t working out, and we have to let you go.”

5. End it quickly

If the person starts to argue or ask questions, you respond with:

“I understand that this is unfortunate. However at this point the decision is not reversible.”

6. Finishing up

At that point, you should stand up, shake their hand and escort them out of the building. At the same time, you should have someone standing by to immediately cut their access to company email, files, etc. Any passwords they have should be changed immediately as well. Ensure you ask for their key to the building if they have one, and watch them walk out the door.

This process should be done with courtesy, respect and professionalism. It is highly unpleasant for both you and the person who is being let go. The best defense is hiring slowly (to find the best people) and firing quickly (when it is clear someone is not a fit after all). 

Feel free to shoot me an email if you’re struggling with needing to end someone’s role at your company, it always feels good to talk it out. Good luck!



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