Today's To-Do List: Fire Someone

Last Updated Jan 28, 2011 5:00 PM EST

Want to improve your business? Forget projects and initiatives and renewed focus. Firing your worst employee will accomplish a lot more in a lot less time.

And as a long-term bonus, you'll realize the way you currently evaluate your employees is largely a waste of effort.

Try it. Pretend you have to fire someone today. Assume you have no choice.

How would you decide whom to let go? Easy methods are seniority (last in, first out), or pay grade (lowest on the totem pole is closest to the axe), or function (sales is an essential function; maintenance less so, at least in the short term.) But 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 is using performance review data. When I worked at a 250-employee manufacturing facility and layoffs loomed, our HR manager suggested using employee evaluations as a quasi-objective, Equal Employment Opportunity-defensible tool.

Each of the eight managers -- including me -- pushed back hard. How did we feel? Sure, evaluations are fine for providing employee feedback, but there was no way we could use them to decide whom to let go.

We were right for feeling that way: At least a few of the 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 prima donna 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 let's introduce a little scope creep: Do two things today.

First, rank your employees by what they truly contribute to operations and profits. Use that exercise to help you create evaluations that measure what truly matters to your business: Results.

Then, if your lowest-ranked employee is dead weight, don't wait: Terminate. He or she deserves it.

So does your business.

photo by flickr user music2work2 CC 2.0

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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.