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Secrets of Success

“We Need to Talk…” How You Know it’s Time to Fire Someone

Last month we looked at mistakes people make in the hiring process. This month we look at that other stomach churner- firing someone. If you thought people were unprepared when it comes to hiring, when it comes to firing “you ain’t seen nothin’.”

Employers are so uncomfortable with firing people that they can’t even say the word. Instead they rely on euphemisms such as “letting them go” (Go where?), “terminating them” (a particularly ghoulish analogy sounds like something the Mafia does). And my favorite: “downsizing.” (Like we’re about to create a race of Hobbits.)

However uncomfortable it may be, firing people is sometimes necessary. The main reason it has to be done has to do with a much larger organizational issue. You do not want to ever create an environment where you reward both excellence and mediocrity. “If you’re doing your job, that’s great. If you’re not contributing, hey, that’s all right too. We don’t differentiate around here.” Not a good idea unless you want your good people to get fed up and start looking elsewhere.

That being said, firing is not something you want to take lightly. When is does have to be done, it should be a decision you make after all reasonable options have been exhausted. What follows is a list of questions. Answering “yes” to one or more of these questions may indicate the time has arrived to have that talk.

Have repeated attempts to help them improve their performance failed?

In a healthy organization employers talk to their people. If someone is not performing at the appropriate level, attempts are made to find out why. Do they know what’s expected of them? How do you know? Are they the right person in the wrong job? Would they be happier and more productive in another capacity? Do they need help? Do they need training? If you have not addressed these issues, it’s a good place to start. If you have addressed these issues repeatedly with little or no success, you have one of the early warning signs that it may be time to part company.

Have you lost confidence in their ability to do the job?

Are you working around them? Are you and/or others assuming responsibilities that belong to that person spending time compensating for their inadequacies? Do you feel they’ve simply made one mistake too many? Have you simply had it and given up on the person? If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” it’s time. It makes no sense to keep someone on the payroll if they are not doing the job you have paid them to do.

Do you spend an inordinate amount of time talking about them rather than to them?

Some of us would like to be famous. None of us wants to be infamous. When an employee has obtained infamous status they may have worn out their welcome. Talking about someone rather than to him or her is a sign that communication with that person has broken down. Avoiding the person will not help the situation and might well lead to resentment. If you have reached the point where you are talking to other people about a problem employee, your confidence in their abilities is most likely very low and your frustration level is most likely very high. Talking about someone in this way is bad for moral and will not solve the problems you are having with the employee. Unfortunately, it may be an indication that it’s time to talk to them about ending the relationship.

Have you excluded them from your future plans?

Answering “yes” to this question is a sure sign that you have already “fired” them in your mind. If they are not being invited to meetings about future projects, if their advice is no longer sought, they already know something is terribly wrong. Leaving them hanging amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. Don’t let them twist in the wind. Better to make a clean break now and get started on finding their replacement.


Firing someone is never pleasant but is sometimes necessary for the overall health of your organization. If you’re paying attention, the signs are always there. As difficult as it may be the sooner you address the issue of parting company the sooner you and your employee can get about the business of moving on with your professional lives.

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CTS Consulting, Inc

3126 Berkshire Road

Baltimore, Maryland 21214

phone 410-444-5857

cell 443-286-2488