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Robert Levin

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5 Ways Firing People Can Suck Less

Posted: 08/24/11 05:01 PM ET

According to a recent survey, almost half of business owners believe that one of their employees should be fired "right now." I hate firing people and I know I am not alone, which is why nearly 50 percent of business owners believe that someone needs to go. If they didn't hate firing so much, those employees would be gone by now. It is the hardest and most emotionally-laden task that an entrepreneur does.

I'm sure you have heard all the buzz phrases around firing like "fire quickly" and "a bad employee is like a cancer." But at the same time, we are entrepreneurs, not HR professionals like George Clooney in Up in the Air. Our employees often are like family. All of that said, not firing someone, or even waiting too long, has drastic consequences and in some cases can even jeopardize the livelihood of all of the other employees. In light of this, here are five pieces of practical advice for finally firing those employees who should go:

  1. Be ruthless when someone needs to go. Anyone who has fired someone will likely say that they should have done it sooner. Keeping those employees on as long as they did probably harmed the company by way of morale, culture, and productivity. In many cases, delaying the inevitable wasn't doing the terminated employee any good either.
  2. Be compassionate but stay unemotional. Almost anywhere you go, people are defined by what they do for a living. While the situation may not be personal for you, it is very personal for the employee on the other side of the desk. So, when you do have to fire someone, do the right things: fire them privately, tell them why they are being let go, and unless there is cause, don't contest their unemployment claim. If appropriate, help them find their next job. Plus, the more compassionate you are, the less likely you are to get sued.
  3. Disregard the blame. Many times I have thought that I should give someone a second chance (or third or fourth) because the company didn't train them right or the job changed since they were hired. Your fault or their fault, it doesn't matter. If the situation isn't working, it's not working regardless of whose fault it is.
  4. Consult an employment attorney when appropriate, but take what they say with a grain of salt. Sure, there are some employees that pose a legitimate risk for a lawsuit or governmental agency action. But remember, we live in an "employment at will" country (there are some states that bend this a bit). If an employee isn't working out, protect yourself with documentation and fire that person. Don't be encumbered or paralyzed by fear of legal retribution. If we always did what our attorneys told us to do, nothing would get done.
  5. Hire more carefully. If you want to fire less, put more time and effort into your hiring. Make sure candidates will fit in with the company culture. An easy way to do this is by having several people interview the person. Would they be excited by working with the candidate? Also, hire slowly. In order to have the luxury of time when hiring, interview candidates all the time -- not just when you have a need.

Personally, I'm hoping that by putting an emphasis on #5 in my own business, I'll avoid the need to heed the rest of my own advice on this matter.

 

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