Q&A: Should I fire this employee?—Approach, Framework And Full Decomposition

“On the Plains of Hesitation bleach the bones of countless millions, who, at the Dawn of Victory, sat down to wait, and waiting…”—Sam Ewing, writer

OKonFriday: How To Decide Whether To Fire Someone

Before we dive into the topic, please note that this article is for people who manage other people. It’s like a “doctors only” warning in a medical article to avoid wrong consequences. 

Q: Should I fire this employee? 

The short answer I would give to this is, in most cases, “Yes”. Simplified. An additional question to ask would be “When”. But let’s break down the question and look at the framework so you see where I come from.

How do I decide to fire someone from my team?

You don’t usually think about firing people from your team who are delivering expected value, do you? This means that if you are asking a question about firing someone, you are already experiencing difficulties related to this person or the results of their work. 

Look at this interpretation

OKonFriday - How do I decide to fire someone from my team?

You can translate the question into the emotions you feel about it. Most likely, in the current conditions, you are uncomfortable with the person you decided to fire. 

Then, you need to find out what exactly is the problem that makes you feel uncomfortable. You can use the 5 Whys method or any other method you like. 

Once you know the exact problem, you can locate it. And when you know exactly where the problem is, you can think of possible solutions. This is necessary so that you can feel the possible development of future events and be honest with yourself about your willingness to go one way or another.

OKonFriday - What's the problem?

When the “problem” is within you, you can be just fine with it and not want to change anything. When the “problem” is with another person, he or she can be fine with it too and not want to change. And if you think about the conditions — sometimes you can influence them, sometimes not, and sometimes you don’t want to.  

Conditions can vary: flawed process, misaligned expectations, unclear responsibilities, etc. If we look at the bigger picture, these circumstances are rarely isolated. This means that there is a whole set of them. 

Now that you have thought of a clear problem and possible solutions, in some cases this is the step at which you can make a positive decision to fire the person. Usually these are situations that are either not in your area of ​​influence, or that you do not want to change. But let’s go further and assume that you have some solution in mind about how you can change the whole situation. Do you truly want to change it? Are you really going to change it?

OKonFriday - decide to fire and plan exact time

This is also the step at which you can make a positive decision to fire a person. However, managers here often answer yes to the question “Will I change this?” but don’t really mean it — either because they plan to rely on someone to make the change or they underestimate their own reluctance to make the change. In any case, we assume that you are confident in your willingness to change the situation. Let’s see the last chain of questions along this way. 

Can I afford to wait until the situation changes?    

You will need time to change any system. During this time, the person you are questioning is likely to continue to raise the same or even greater concerns. That’s why it’s important to be honest about whether you can really afford it – in terms of project, effort, team spirit, etc. 

By now you’ve surely thought it through carefully. If you end up deciding not to fire the person, this is a great decision for your situation. Make sure you start the change process immediately. Otherwise, it can turn out to be a trap — the illusion that you made a decision, but in fact you were just delaying the real decision. 

The moment you ask yourself the question “Should I fire this person?” is the starting point from where you are most likely going in one of these directions: make a decision and make a plan or not make a decision and keep looking for reasons not to fire.

OKonFriday - Hesitate or Make a decision

On the emotional aspect of the decision to fire a person

Ask yourself, “What’s the point of keeping a person who doesn’t live up to expectations?” You will probably catch yourself thinking things like “What if I am wrong?”, “What if I don’t see the whole picture?”, “What if my decision is unfair or incorrect?”, “After all, this is a good person.” And often what we do is delay the decision to fire, experiencing continuous dissatisfaction. 

It seems that it’s usually taken as bad news when an employee and company part ways. As for my experience, in the end, it has always been, on the contrary, a positive thing. It has always been a new starting point. Especially for an employee, because it is a smaller “unit” than the whole company. This “unit” is now about to write his or her new chapter – trying what was previously impossible, learning new things, meeting new people, paying attention to what was missed before, and other exciting endeavors. So why is it bad in any way, other than a little fear of change?

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Getting back to why, in most cases, the question “Should I fire this person?” answers “Yes”? Simply because when the question is already in your head and you are thinking about it, only in rare cases does it make sense not to fire.   

“Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer.”—Niccolo Machiavelli