Fit, Fix or Fire (Part 3 of 3) Solving Performance Problems Faster

By Tom Davidson

Before we talk about the firing process, let’s review all the options at your disposal. Here are some tips:

As a manager, you’ll eventually have to fire someone, and the likelihood is high that you won’t be prepared to do so, either from human resource standpoint or a psychological one. I’d like to think that you don’t want to do this and that this won’t come easily for you. If you enjoy this at all or you are getting too much practice at it, then there is something wrong with the organization or your own fit or performance as a manager.

Before we talk about the firing process, let’s review all the options at your disposal, two of which we discussed in the previous two blogs in this series. They are:

1. Fit – Finding the best fit for the person’s talents and interpersonal skills
2. Fix – Adjusting the key behaviors that are causing performance problems
3. Fire – Letting the person go to another job or organization where they are a better match

Firing as a Last Resort
Once you start thinking about firing someone, the chances are good that you will start unwittingly contributing to their demise. You will start to see confirmation of your growing bias against the individual, seeing evidence that they should be fired even where it does not exist and dismissing evidence that they are making progress. So don’t put yourself in this conundrum too early. Maintain an optimistic approach as long as possible or until they fire themselves, a concept I will cover shortly.

Here are some of the steps you should follow:

1. Consult with your human resource (HR) professional to ensure that your efforts have been sufficiently reasonable for helping the individual turn the situation around.
2. Review with your HR advisor all of the documentation you have accumulated on the performance problem and the conversations that have transpired.
3. Cooperate fully with your organization’s policies and procedures, which are there to protect individuals’ rights under the law and protect you and the organization from needless liability.

With the help of HR, you will enter into a period of due diligence, where you will need to prove, perhaps more than once, that you have done all you could to prevent the termination. Also, you will need to ensure that there is no serious legal implication of wrong doing on your part or the part of the organization (such as constructive discharge or discrimination).

It still may be possible that the person will step back from the precipice, but by this point, your conversations, feedback, checkpoints and plans should have been so clear that the person is actually firing themselves if they don’t. No matter what you do, people make choices that are sometimes not in their best interests.

If you have (a) been clear about expectations (b) showed them what good looks like (c) provided timely, balanced and specific feedback (c) offered resources and learning opportunities and (d) given them sufficient time to show progress but they still fail to adjust their performance, then they have fired themselves. You just happen to be the person signaling that there was a cliff ahead, trying to show them how to miss it, and then telling them when they drove off.

If termination becomes appropriate and necessary, and you have done all you can reasonably do, keep in mind that, even though it feels harsh against this one person, you are firing the individual for the good of his team and the rest of the organization. You have a responsibility to them as well.

Have you ever fired someone who landed in a better position for them as a result? What tips do you have for the termination conversation itself?

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