How To Fire Somebody Right

Pulling the trigger is the hardest thing a founder has to do – or is it?

Somebody in your organisation is not pulling their weight. They regularly turn up late for meetings, spend most of their time studying their Facebook feed, and when challenged, say they are doing some research on behalf of the company.

At every staff function they are drinking too much and dragging interns to after-hours parties. They don’t seem to have a life-plan, or at least not one that you can understand – it’s like they are waiting for the company to change to suit them, and not the other way around.

Let’s cut to the chase – it’s time to let them go.

Now the funny thing is, when it’s time to let somebody like this go, founders are expected to feel guilty, do some soul searching, reassure the soon to be ex-staff member that everything will be ok, it’s not them, it’s you, there will be a thorough HR review into what happened.

When in fact, it’s obvious to everyone to that this person needs to grow up, and get with the programme. Somewhere a long way away from your office.

Now don’t get us wrong here, there are probably a thousand reason why it didn’t work out, and someone who fails in one role may well go on to excel in another. But that only underlines the point. Why should you then feel guilty about letting them go?

Maybe they have financial concerns, and you are putting them in a difficult position, maybe you did not give them sufficient prior warning.

The answer here is to revisit your HR policies and make sure you are making it glaringly obvious when errant employees are pushing it too far.

Not let’s examine how you can get the job of firing somebody done with the minimum of fuss, whilst still showing that you care about the person, and that you wish them all the best.

Even if you hope they step in a large puddle on the way home after you give them “the rest of the day off” and then some – before realising they are clean out of marmite.

Remember when your mother told you not to play with your food. Well, don’t toy with your victim, either; don’t ask them if they “know why they’re here”, don’t start reeling off a list of crimes they have perpetrated, or times when they drove you up the wall. It’s too late for that, and these issues should already have been addressed.

Be firm – Open up by informing them what is going to happen and managing their expectations – I’m sorry to tell you we have made a decision, this is what’s going to happen, you’ll have 20 minutes to clear out your stuff and say goodbye, then you really must go.

Then ask them if there’s anything they wish to discuss before you close the meeting. Now be very careful at this juncture, because you do not want to encourage them to think you want to have a debate about what’s been decided.

They might see this as an opportunity, an invitation even, to try to launch a counter offensive. You do not want this. So, when you ask the question, don’t say “is there anything you’d like to discuss”, say “is there anything you’d like to know”. Its firmer.

Finally, on this occasion, be their friend – adopt the attitude, hey, we’ve all been there before, it’s just one of those things we have to go through in life – share an anecdote if you like – just not the one about how you once went straight to the pub after a bad day and sank 12 straight double vodkas.

You’re nearly there, now, and a bit of impatience here can get you over the line. Start to get restless – they might believe you have a huge job on finding their replacement. Maybe you do.

Now, some of the above may sound a little cold, but hiring and firing in the startup world is a fluid business, and it happens a lot. Stay positive – whatever you think of the staff member you are letting go, you have to believe they can thrive in a different work environment – it would be arrogant of you to think they won’t be able to work well for another boss.

Done right, the firing process can be a cleansing, healthy experience. Get it wrong, and, well, just don’t get it wrong ; )

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