There was a bit of chatter on the Club Facebook Group from members looking for help and guidance on how to bite the bullet and fire someone that they knew they needed to get rid of. It isn’t something that we’ve written about in the Circular before so, as someone who has had to exit dozens of people from my business over the last few years, I thought it would be helpful if I shared with you my approach and how I go about it – in 13 ‘unlucky’ steps…
Disclaimer: At this point, I have to emphasise that I am not qualified to give you formal HR advice here. Employment laws in our country can be tricky and the sensible thing for you to do is get advice from an HR specialist, which is why our Trusted Supplier, Jacqui Mann of J Mann Associates has helpfully provided some “official” pointers over the page.
1. Making the Decision
The first step in getting rid of someone is, of course, to crystallise the decision. We’re human, which means that we’re very good at putting off difficult decisions and living with poor performance,
disruptive behaviour, bad attitude, etc. because, subconsciously at least, the pain of putting up with it is less than the pain of having to confront it and deal with the issue.
The way I tackle this is that I can translate any problem or challenge in my business and distil it down into a choice between that person, or my eight-year-old son, Fabian.
“If I continue to put up with this person, then our pace of growth will be slower, our profits less, my life more stressed, etc. etc.- all of which will diminish the life of my lovely son.”
And the minute you distill the decision down to such a base level, it becomes a heck of a lot easier … because Fabian will win every time.
Try it and you’ll see what I mean.
When it comes to an employee who, for whatever reason, isn’t cutting it, the other point to bear in mind when coming to your decision is that you do have a choice here.
You can either have short-term pain (by firing them) or long-term pain (by putting up with their continued issues).
Either way, you’ve got pain and your choice is just what type and how long you put up with it.
2. Two is better than One
When you’re actually going to “do the deed” and fire them, I always try and make sure I have a second person present.
Interestingly, it’s pretty rare that that second person ever says anything, but it’s helpful to have them there just in case anything kicks off – – also they are a witness as to what, exactly was said should that ever be needed in the future.
Interestingly again, it never has been needed! But I still have them there every time if I can.
3. On my turf…
I always get the individual concerned to come and see me in my office. It’s always pre-prepared on my part. I’ve never fired anyone on a whim and I definitely wouldn’t recommend it. When they come in, my small talk or pre-chat is completely non-existent. Normally I’ll just say “Come in, sit down.” That’s it.
4. Clarity & Brevity (with eye contact)
The next step is really important. I sit down, usually at the meeting table, not behind my desk, but I make sure that I’m looking at them straight in the eye and I maintain eye contact all the time whilst I say something like “It’s over for you here…” or “I have to let you go …” or “I need you to leave…”
I’ve never used the word “fired” or “sacked”. Ever. Unlike Sir Alan.
But I also choose my words very carefully.
The sentence I use is crystal clear. It’s definite. It leaves no room for manoeuvre or doubts.
5. “You can’t be happy…”
In most cases, where there have been problems brewing over a number of weeks or months I may add in at this point something along the lines of “You can’t be happy at the moment with things how they are and life’s too short for you not to be happy.”
Don’t use this approach unless you are very sure that it is true!
6. They won’t remember what you said
Many years ago, I had some training at Barclays where we were having to make a large number of people redundant and one thing in particular I remember after all these years is that when you deliver the news (which I do in that first sentence, don’t forget) you have to then shut up. There’s no point in you carrying on talking because their brains will be in such a tizz that they won’t register or remember anything else you say. Don’t try and assuage your guilt or make yourself feel better. Reconcile yourself to the fact that you’re doing the right thing here – for your business and the people that are closest to you (and, usually, the rest of your staff as well!) and do the deed in the most sensitive but clinical way as you can. You keeping on talking just makes it worse for
7. Don’t kick ‘em when they’re down…
You don’t have to give them a long justification for your decision. You should be clear as to why you’re doing it, but in my experience, in at least nine out of ten cases, the individual concerned knows why you’re doing it and you don’t need to spell it out. Be sensitive, you’ve told them that they’re leaving, just hand them the letter – you don’t need (or want) to make ‘em feel any worse.
8. The Letter
Always have a letter ready and prepared. The letter will set out exactly what has happened. Again, I never use words like “sacking” or “firing”, but it will say that their employment has been terminated and it will set out clearly that their last working day was today, but that they’ll be paid their notice period… …that they won’t be required to turn up for work during the notice period, when they’ll receive their final salary and P45, etc. and what the arrangements are for returning company property.
It is a functional letter. I do top and tail it with sincere messages that humanise it a bit, but that letter is really important because when they’ve left your office and your building, their memories of this meeting will be pretty blurred and that letter is critical.
It’s also really important to protect you from a legal perspective.
9. The Insiders
When I’m about to fire someone, a small number of people in my business will know about it ahead of time.
One of these will be my IT person because he will have been briefed that when this person comes into my office for this meeting, he will jump straight onto all our systems and disable their access, change their passwords, etc. so there is zero opportunity for them to do any damage. Don’t think that because of who you’re dealing with this won’t happen. Play safe and disable their access straight away.
10. Leave Now
When you’re doing the firing, prepare to let them go there and then.
When people resign, it’s normal that I will allow them to work their notice, but when their exit has been my decision, then they never work their notice. The risks to the business are too great.
Only on a couple of rare occasions when it’s been for gross misconduct have I had them physically marched off the premises.
What normally happens is that the second person who is in the meeting with me will have been briefed to go back to their desk with them, help them get their stuff, allow them to say cheerio to their colleagues, but then ensure that they leave. We never leave anyone unsupervised in the building once they’ve been dismissed.
11. Three Minutes…
The average duration of a dismissal meeting is less than three minutes. And that’s only when they ask some questions. This is not, and cannot become, a lengthy process.
It’s over very quick if you’re humane and sensitive about it.
12. Hand shake & eye contact
When the meeting is finished, I always make eye contact with them again and offer them my hand.
Most times people take it well, and often say something quite nice at this point (it’s just like on The Apprentice when they thank Lord Sugar for the opportunity!)
Much better to end it this way if you can – no matter what it is that they’ve done or how badly you want rid of them. Always better to maintain a bridge than burn it, I find.
Several people who I’ve dismissed have subsequently written me very nice, conciliatory letters – and I’m certain it’s because of that sincere handshake at the end…
13. Why did you take so long?
Time after time when I take the decision and get rid of somebody, within a few hours multiple people in my team will say something along the lines of “I knew that was coming … why did it take you so long?” or “I knew they had to go …” or the like.
And, of course, you have a responsibility, not just to your business and to your family, but to all the other people working with you as well.
That responsibility is to have the best, most effective team you possibly can and when someone is holding you back or not pulling their weight or causing problems, you have a duty to all those other people to act appropriately.
So, if there’s someone in your business who you’ve woken up thinking about on more than three mornings already this year, then we both know that you need to take some action.
You’ve either got to get them to amend their behaviours or else they’ll have to leave.
Put another way; “change the people, or change the people.”