Wait! Don’t Fire That Person (Yet)!

As an executive coach for the last eight years, I’ve had some phenomenal clients put on a short list of “leaders to discard” even though they shouldn’t have been. Although I’ve been assured that coaching is not being used as a last resort, I sometimes find out differently later. Often what it comes down to is that their manager is not willing to wait for the time it takes my client to make some changes to their leadership.

Some of these clients got lucky and found positions in different parts of the same company before the firing squad came. In one notable situation, my client’s manager was fired while my client was on a path to being fired by that same manager. His new manager considered my client a great asset to the organization and has every intention of keeping him on.

What this tells me is that sometimes leaders make the wrong decisions about their people.

The effect of firing someone can be devastating – to you, your team, your company (and certainly to the person being fired). Firing someone should only occur following careful reflection and a confidence that it is the final resort.

Before you fire that person, I have some questions for you to consider:

What possibility exists in this person? You may be focused on all of the negative attributes in this person. Are you sure there isn’t a strength there that could be used in your organization (or elsewhere in your company?).

What is your role in the situation? Have you done all that is possible to assure success? What have you done or not done to coach this person through the situation? Think hard. If this is a personality conflict (maybe you just don’t like this person), that isn’t enough reason to fire them.

Have you asked what this person needs to be successful? Amazingly, this simple question is often neglected in manager-employee relations. Asking the question may be the key to keeping a good leader.

Have you truly listened to their point of view? This is the kind of listening where you turn off your inner judge. You must deeply listen for understanding and value.  There may be a spark of truth in their side of things.

Have you considered other assistance? This might mean you need to contact Human Resources or your EAP. It also might mean that an internal or external coach can salvage the situation, but don’t go this route unless you get to a point of believing that there is hope in the situation.

I know that there are legitimate times when it makes sense to let someone go. I’m simply advocating for restraint and covering all the bases before you do so.

I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.

2 comments on “Wait! Don’t Fire That Person (Yet)!

  1. Mary Jo, another good post. Just as we spend a lot of time to recruit or hire a person – the many rounds of interview, the technical as well as personality assessments, etc – we need to spend an equal amount of time, effort and energy before we fire someone. While hiring is primarily the responsibility of the HR leader, Firing is the Team Leader/Manager area of responsibility. We must act on it responsibly.

    All of the points above are excellent. I have something to add, more a pre-test before you get into the specific above. Think of a person in your team, take a piece of paper and write his strength and weakness (are of improvement). If what pops in your head are more weakness than strength, that is an early indication that the relationship is not working. Time for you to act and get into more analysis as listed in this post.

    In my experience, at one point in my leadership career, some colleagues have labeled me as the ‘terminator’ jokingly. At the time, I held the record of firing people. But each one of them drained a part of me. I spent so much time and energy to make him/her fit in and change, to the point that they themselves knew exactly why they were being let go… they knew they failed to deliver. It was seen as my leadership quality but I ask myself this: “Did I take too much time to decide?” “Would it have been better for the org, the project, and the employee if I had made a decision to fire quickly?” There is never really a right answer to that. Everything is situational but just some thoughts to consider.

    Sorry about the long comment. Good post, Mary Jo. Waiting for the next.

  2. Raj, you are becoming a force to be reckoned with in providing your experiences and comments. I love the pre-test idea.Your thoughtfulness in helping those who didn’t seem to fit to the point where they knew, at the time of firing, why they had to leave is exceptional. Thanks for sharing your ideas.

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