Firing Shouldn't Be as Painful as We Make It

Last Updated Oct 12, 2007 2:58 PM EDT

One of the toughest aspects of managing a team is having to let a team member go, especially a long-standing one. When you have spent the time training someone, gotten used to their personality foibles and signed their birthday card with clever little witticisms a few times, it becomes tougher to tell them that they don't fit into the mix anymore.

But as is the case with most aspects of teamwork, having more information about the situation can make the task much less painful for both the manager and the team member.

Team leaders often feel that they are doing a team member a service by keeping them on when they are not really a good fit for the job â€" they are showing loyalty or respecting the person's term of service. This is precisely the type of assumption that creates a rift in the relationship between manager and employee. It's only through communication and consideration that the relationship can be one of mutual respect and mutual benefit.

Along those lines, here there are some questions to consider:

1) What is best for the team? Keeping someone around when they are not performing up to the standard that the team requires can be a small problem or a big one. But one thing is certain, the longer you continue to do so, the larger the problem will become. A manager owes it to the rest of the team to address these issues quickly rather than hoping they'll correct themselves. Earlier on, you can try to offer training or suggest changes to the job description that could bring out their strengths and interests. This is also good because then you know how they feel about the work, you've given them a low-pressure chance to mold their job to show you what they can do, and you've given warning if and when you do have to let them go.

2) What is best for the employee? It's important not to make many assumptions here. Sometimes getting fired provides that kick in the pants that spurs an unhappy or unchallenged or uninterested employee to search for a job that they really like. But don't assume that they will be happy to move on either. Find a way to gauge each team member's feelings about their job in a non-confrontational way that maximizes their ability to be honest and frank. It should be part of the process of motivating your team to pay attention to how motivated they are and what that means about how much they want to be on your team. It may not be the Shangri-La you perceive it as for everyone.


3) How do I do it? Honesty is crucial. Coddling people doesn't help them grow. It can be more insulting and more troubling when they don't understand why you won't keep them on. And you aren't doing anyone any favors by sparing their feelings and saying it was a cost thing when it was a performance thing. But that doesn't mean you should blindside someone with all of their faults and shortcomings. They haven't asked for your feedback on how they can improve their employability. If someone's not working out in a position, as a manager, you owe it to that person to give them the respect of letting them know. For the love of God, don't demote someone and pretend it's a promotion.