People Fire Themselves

“You need to relax for this test,” Debbie, the sonographer, told me. I had worked until 9:00 P.M. the night before and started again at 4:00 A.M. Oh yes, that- and handled a difficult situation an hour before my appointment. I sighed and said, “I know. I just fired someone.” She said she understood, that she used to be a manager. Then a beautiful pearl fell from her mouth.

“People fire themselves.”

A series of critical performance failures in quick succession made the decision to fire this employee clear. However, firing someone well-intentioned, nice, and with a family to support had me twisting and turning in discomfort. When I heard Debbie’s words, it laid something to rest within me.

Do you have an employee you are considering firing?

In many cases the decision can be cut and dried, the firing almost surgical because the incidents precipitating the decision are obvious and serious performance failures. For other cases, it is less clear. The thought of firing the person may have crossed your mind, but you kept trying to help the person succeed. Often you finally reach your tipping point after a steady accumulation of incidents. (One writer says that if the thought of firing someone has come to mind, that is the time to fire the person. This philosophy can help us take action more quickly and without the tendency many people have to let things drag on.)

Useful Questions to Ask Ourselves

While firing is neither easy for most of us nor done lightly, it is useful to ask ourselves:

  • Are the performance standards clear?
  • Were they understood?
  • Was the employee provided with timely feedback and opportunity to correct his or her behavior?
  • Did we create an environment conducive to his or her success and provide sufficient resources?

Depending on your responses to these questions, is there an additional action or set of actions to take?

Employees may fire themselves but their success or failure always happens within the context of a system–you, the team, processes, etc. are part of that system. Take a hard look at what else contributed.

We Also Ask Ourselves About the Risk to Our Company

We also ask ourselves about the risk our company incurs if we keep the employee versus letting the employee go. We consider the consequences to our own relationship capital with internal and external stakeholders if the person has high visibility and authority, and where our judgment may be called into question.

If you have done your due diligence with respect to the employee and still feel that emotional unease, consider Debbie’s pearl: “People fire themselves.”

A Difficult Conversation with Grace and Fairness

When you come to an integrated recognition both logically and emotionally about others’ role in their own firing, your gut will let the worrying part of your mind off the hook–a service to you and to the one you fire. Though not comfortable, your conversation will come from a place of resolve rather than fear. That allows for a difficult conversation conducted with grace and fairness.

U.S. Library of Congress ISSN 2164-7240

©2015 Leadership Hand LLC and Beth Hand  | (+1) 703.820.8018 Eastern Time USA |

You may reprint an article from Written by Hand™ on a non-exclusive basis provided the above copyright and link to is included in the credits. Please send us a notice of the reprint along with a copy of the publication.

Comments are closed.