How to Make Firing People Easier

yourefiredNote that the title says “easier,” not “easy.” It’s rarely easy to fire people. In most cases the person that needs to go is a good person, and probably does a decent job–just not the job you need right now in this particular context. And most of us don’t feel good about letting people go, because we know they need income to feed themselves and their families, so it feels like our actions could, in theory, put their lives at risk. That never feels good.

So how do you make it easier? Get clear on your culture, particularly making the connection between what’s valued inside your culture and how that ties directly to the success of the enterprise. This is a common missing link. Some cultures may work hard to identify core values, but since they don’t usually connect in a visible way to what makes the organization successful, you can’t use it for holding people accountable.

But when the culture is clear, letting people go can get easier. Let’s say you have someone on staff who’s been there a while. He has done a good job the whole time he has been there, but lately it seems that his productivity doesn’t match many of your newer hires. He’s not adapting to new technology well, and you’ve noticed many of your processes now have “work-arounds” based on this guy (or several people in his category). On the other hand, he’s been very loyal. Like all of you who have been there a while, he took the pay cut during those lean years and never let down on his effort. The newer staff complain about him–he’s dead weight they say, slowing us all down. The older staff may defend him–he stood by us, so we should stand by him. What to do?!

Use your culture as a guide. You culture should be clear on what’s valued internally and how that drives success. Exactly how is this person slowing things down, and (more importantly) what level of speed is required for a thriving enterprise? How important is that speed? If it’s critical, then you should have already made clear in your culture that speed is a high priority, and you might even give up some control in order to get more speed. You might have made it clear how strategically important it is to be skilled in the latest technology, since that’s what your most valuable customers are using. Now you can have a clear conversation with this person that the way he’s doing his work is not a match for this culture, and it’s time to help him find employment elsewhere.

Then again, maybe your success actually hinges more on the quality of the work that he’s doing, rather than the speed. Maybe the new hires need some coaching around the fact that the slower speed of that guy (which looks like lower productivity) actually doesn’t hinder results since the quality of his output is so stellar. Your culture values that level of quality so much, it’s worth it to institute some work-arounds.

But it is the cultural clarity (connecting what’s valued to what drives success) that makes it easier. Take the time to get clear on that and build that clarity into your internal processes, and you might find that many different “difficult” jobs internally become a whole lot easier.