5 Hard Lessons About Firing People

So you start your business, and you get it going, and growing. If you have employees, it’s likely you’re going to have to deal with firing somebody. Here are my some of my thoughts (based on actual experience; not theoretical) on that subject.

  1. Having to fire somebody who’s been trying hard and failing is the worst job a business owner has. I’d rather do collection calls. But it happens sometimes. If you can’t stand the heat …
  2. Because of the recession in 2001 I had to let five people go on the same day. We had to cut costs and we had no choice. They weren’t let go for their own failure, but ours, and they knew it. For the record, that’s much easier than letting one person go because of work or performance reasons.
  3. Firing somebody should never be a surprise. It should be because expectations weren’t met, and performance wasn’t as expected, and that person should always know it. If it’s a surprise, management has failed. (Well, if it is a surprise to the person let go, that is; as for co-workers, that’s none of their business.)
  4. A good lawyer I worked with for years used to say that the time to let somebody go is the first time you ask yourself whether or not you should; the first moment you even think of it. He’s a smart guy, a good and honest lawyer, and basically compassionate. His underlying though was that it was best for both sides to do it as soon as you start wondering. And I’ve never known anybody to actually work that way. I didn’t. Still, the wisdom here is that it’s better sooner than later. Later does more damage.
  5. I’ve had some successes with repositioning a person, rewriting their job description, having them do something entirely different, rather than firing them. However, to be honest, those successes were the exception, not the rule.
  6. (Bonus) We live in a litigious world. Talk to your attorney before you do it. There are a lot of things you’d like to say but you shouldn’t. And some very unfair lawsuits happen.

What do you think?

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