Why you should fire someone today

Angry boss firing employee, showing door. Papers flying in air, scared secretary standing in background.� iStockphoto

For the moment, set aside projects and initiatives and renewed focus. Want to improve your small business? Firing your worst employee will accomplish a lot more in a lot less time.

And as a long-term bonus from the process, you might decide the way you currently evaluate your employees is largely a waste of effort.

Here's all you have to do: Pretend you have to fire someone today. Assume you have no choice. Someone has to go.

Now consider this: How would you decide whom to fire?

There are easy methods. You could go by seniority and decide the last in should be the first out. Or you could go by pay grade, and fire the lowest paid employee under the assumption their function is less critical than other, higher paid functions. (That isn't always the case, but for the sake of argument, you could pretend it is.) Or you could go by function: You might decide sales is an essential function, while, at least in the short term, maintenance is less critical.

The problem is, the easy way is usually the worst way. For example, your best employee may also be your newest. Can you really afford to let her go?

Another easy way to determine who should go is to use performance review data, but the results of that approach might be unexpected. When I worked at a manufacturing facility and layoffs loomed, our HR manager suggested using employee evaluations as a quasi-objective, Equal Employment Opportunity-defensible tool.

Every manager, including me, pushed back hard. We felt evaluations were fine for providing employee feedback, but there was no way we should use them to decide whom to let go.

We were right for feeling that way because at least a few employees we could least afford to lose had received the worst recent evaluations. Of course, we were also wrong for feeling that way, since we had all willingly used an evaluation system that failed to measure real, meaningful performance.

How will you decide who should go? Don't base your decision on "interpersonal skills" or "teamwork skills" or "attention to detail" or other boilerplate employee evaluation categories that sound great but don't measure tangible skills and achievements.

Choose the person who least contributes to business success. Use numbers, actions and accomplishments. Focus on bottom-line contributions. A high-maintenance diva salesperson may fall short in a number of "standard" evaluation categories, but if he is responsible for a major chunk of revenue, you can't afford to lose him.

So here's what you'll do. First, rank your employees by what they truly contribute to your operations and profits. Use that exercise to help you create evaluations that measure what truly matters to your business: results. That way you'll evaluate every employee more accurately and more fairly.

Then, if your lowest-ranked employee truly is dead weight, don't let a bad situation continue.

  • Jeff Haden On Twitter»

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    Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business from managing a 250-employee book manufacturing plant. Everything else he picked up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest CEOs and leaders in business. He has written more than 30 non-fiction books, including four Business and Investing titles that reached #1 on Amazon's bestseller list. Follow him on Twitter at @Jeff_Haden.

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