5 Questions to Ask Before Deciding to Fire Someone
Firing someone always hurts. But it usually hurts worse if the leader waits too long to make a move that’s going to benefit both the employee and the company in the long run.
However, there is a BIG difference between making a timely decision and a rash one. Before you fire someone, think through these five questions and discuss your answers with your CEO coach.
1. Is the problem performance-based? If so, have I provided adequate feedback?
A lot of hiring and firing decisions fail right here because the leader doesn’t have enough self-awareness to assess how they have or haven’t helped their team member succeed.
For example, are you setting high bars that motivate and reward high performance? Or are you setting soft goals that aren’t supported by clear KPIs?
Are you broadcasting progress — or lack there of — on company or department-wide scoreboards? Or are you keeping your team members in the dark so there’s no team-based accountability?
Also, what does your communication rhythm look like? Is your team member clear on the top company goals and the daily, weekly, and monthly tasks needed to maintain forward momentum? Are your meetings well-structured and efficient or rambling and aimless?
2. Have I provided enough support and resources?
If you haven’t done so recently, grab a piece of paper. Rate this employee on a scale of 1 to 10.
Anyone you rate below 6, ask yourself, Could they be an 8 or 9 in a different role? If not, and if you’ve done all you can to coach them up, they should be let go.
But take an extra beat before deciding to fire anyone in that 6-7 range. Ask yourself, How could I coach this person up to an 8 or 9? Could they benefit from some additional training? Is their mediocre performance really their fault, or are they manifesting bad habits or inefficiencies higher up the chain? Does this person have all of the tools, training, and support they need to excel? What are their unique skills? Could they be better suited to another position?
And here’s another important question to ask yourself, Knowing what I know now about this person, would I rehire them? If the answer is no, well, you know what to do.
3. Has the issue been persistent over time, even after intervention?
If, after serious reflection, you conclude that you’ve given this employee every opportunity to succeed, every chance to pop into your open door, and every friendly reminder to do a little less X and a little more Y, then it’s truly up to that employee to do better.
Don’t tolerate repeat offenses. But once you do settle on termination, don’t overlook structural problems to your hiring and onboarding process that led you to this mismatch. Somewhere along the line, someone was blinded by shiny credentials and a winning smile, or position specifications weren’t clearly designed. Unless you reassess your hiring processes, you risk making the same mistake with the next stack of resumes.
4. Is the employee’s behavior negatively impacting the team or company culture?
The days of tolerating the “eccentric” genius who exceeds quota but treats everyone poorly are over. No one person is BIGGER than your company — not even the CEO.
And at a time when employees are constantly on the lookout for greener pastures, it’s foolish to assume that someone who doesn’t care how they’re affecting your team, customers, or culture is going to stay loyal to your company. If they do leave, what kind of permanent damage will remain? What whispers will the next wave of talent hear about how you treat people and how your people treat each other?
5. Have I consulted with HR and reviewed legal considerations?
It’s crucial to correctly follow procedures when considering termination, both for the protection of the company and the employee. Before making a final decision, consult with your human resources department and legal team. Cross every T and dot every I. And if you have a relationship with a crisis management firm, get in touch to assess if you’ll need to take any proactive steps on the PR side so that this move sends the right message to your key stakeholders, including customers.
Now: What’s the right thing to do?
When termination is on the table, the easiest option is often the most obvious. But is retaining a beloved longtime employee who’s become a perpetual drag on productivity, rather than risk rocking the boat, what’s best for the company? Are you helping or hurting your culture if you take a hardline against every mistake?
Once you’ve gathered all the relevant information, the leader has to do what’s right, not what’s easy. It’s your responsibility to consider the facts in context, utilize high-EQ leadership, and make the choice that will keep your company heading in the right direction.
A CEO Coaching International client recently faced a situation where the easy and obvious answer was to fire someone. An employee in a leadership position made a post on their personal social media account that offended a large number of cowokers and subordinates. After consulting with the employee, HR, legal, and his CEO coach, our client determined that the employee had misread and misclicked. It was an honest mistake, but a large number of employees still wanted our client to fire the offender. Our client was even receiving angry anonymous emails about the problem.
If our client had fired the employee, the short-term problem would have vanished, but the “one wrong click and you lose your job” message it would have sent could have had damaging long-term effects on his company’s culture. So he did what was hard, and what was right.
“I talked to some of the offended employees,” our client said. “I said, ‘You work directly for this person. You know they’re a good person. You know this isn’t how they think.’ We talked through it and I got some key employees on board. Somebody made a mistake, they corrected it, apologized, and we’re going to move forward. The issue died down pretty quickly. I made the right decision keeping them because the person is a fantastic leader who made a mistake.”
Knowing that you made the right decision still doesn’t make tough people decisions any easier, especially when letting someone go is the best option for all parties. Answering these questions and gathering all the information will at least help leaders arrive at an informed decision that’s consistent with your culture, your values, and your vision for Making BIG Happen.
About CEO Coaching International
CEO Coaching International works with CEOs and their leadership teams to achieve extraordinary results quarter after quarter, year after year. Known globally for its success in coaching growth-focused entrepreneurs to meaningful exits, CEO Coaching International has coached more than 1,000 CEOs and entrepreneurs in more than 60 countries and 45 industries. The coaches at CEO Coaching International are former CEOs, presidents, or executives who have made BIG happen. The firm’s coaches have led double-digit sales and profit growth in businesses ranging in size from startups to over $10 billion, and many are founders that have led their companies through successful eight, nine, and ten-figure exits. Companies working with CEO Coaching International for two years or more have experienced an average EBITDA CAGR of 53.5% during their time as a client, more than three times the U.S. average, and a revenue CAGR of 26.2%, nearly twice the U.S. average.