It’s Time: 7 Important Signs Somebody Needs To Be Fired
Erika Andersen, Founder/Partner
I’ve spoken with a few executives over the past week who are agonizing over whether or not to fire someone. I suspect they all decided to wait till after the holidays, and now that diversion has run its course.
It’s awful to fire people. It’s the most difficult thing most managers will ever have to do. Because it’s so hard knowing that you’re going to be affecting someone’s life in such a profound way, it’s all too easy to dither and procrastinate, change your mind ten times, talk yourself into it and then back out of it. And unfortunately, as managers we often get held hostage to those employees who aren’t quite bad enough to clearly need to be fired immediately (i.e., they haven’t embezzled company funds or not shown up for work for weeks at a time) but aren’t good enough to make us feel glad to have them on the team.
So, to help you in those truly tough should-I-or-shouldn’t-I firing situations, here’s a simple 7-point checklist. If an employee consistently does 4 or more of these things (AND you’ve had clear feedback conversations with him or her about changing the behaviors, with no impact)… it’s time to get off the fence and have that toughest conversation:
Makes others do his/her job: One client of mine, the controller of a large company, stayed late for a few nights every month-end, cleaning up financial reports submitted to her by a subordinate. Every month she gave him feedback about how they needed to be improved—and the next month she’d get the new ones, also needing to be fixed. If you or other people on the team consistently complete, clean up, or correct an employee’s bad work—and you’ve been clear with the person about what needs to improve—step back and think about what’s happening here. That person has trained everyone around him or her to do what he or she can’t or won’t. Clever trick—but it’s a drain on the person’s colleagues, you, and the company’s resources.
Creates daily difficulties for others: “Difficult” people often get cut lots of slack, especially in sales or creative roles. “You just have to know how to handle them” we say, or “They’re not doing it on purpose.” Think about the cost-benefit. Let’s say you’ve got someone who makes kick-ass promotional materials—but you end up spending hours every week cleaning up his or her emotional and practical messes—talking people off the ledge, putting blown-up meetings back together, apologizing to valued outside partners. Is the creative output really worth the daily hassle? Surely there’s someone out there who could get the same results without the downside.
Takes up an inordinate amount of your mental bandwidth: Let’s say you have six people on your team, and you spend 40% of your time thinking about one of them—what he’s doing wrong, why he doesn’t change, whether you’ve been as clear as you need to be, wondering if there’s any other way to motivate him, the effect he’s having on the team, what you should have said to him, what you’d like to say to him….you get the picture. If a good chunk of your mental monologue is focused on a single employee—that’s a bad sign. AND it’s not fair to the other folks who work for you—good employees who are getting short shrift because your attention is being sucked up by the problem employee.
Lies more than once. In my world, everybody gets one little lie. One garden-variety, self-protective lie arising from fear or embarrassment (Uh, yes, I’m sure I filed that form, or Nobody told me I wasn’t supposed to use that account), especially when the person is new or very junior to you, is understandable. You, good manager that you are, respond by kindly but firmly letting the person know that you know it’s not true, and that you expect them to tell you the truth from this point forward. If they lie to you again—and especially if they lie to you a third time…well, once can be an anomaly, twice can be a coincidence, but three times is a pattern. This person is a liar.
Is permanently clueless: I know a fairly senior employee, who has repeatedly been given feedback about yelling at his subordinates. Every time it’s brought up to him, he gets a genuinely puzzled look on his face and says some version of, “Me, yell? I don’t yell at work. That would be unprofessional.” Either he’s a really, really good liar (see above), or he’s totally lacking in self-awareness. In either case, this behavior means that the employee is uncoachable, and if you need him to behave differently in order to succeed, you should stop hoping against hope that he will do so. He won’t.
Refuses to change: Some employees, when asked to do something differently, simply don’t. They might have an excuse (That’s just not me, or That’s not how we did it when Joe was running the department), or they might look at you silently—but in either case, they continue to do whatever it is in the way they’ve always done it. If you’ve tried everything in your arsenal to get them to change (clear feedback, hooking into their motivational system, outlining the negative consequences, etc), and they haven’t changed—it’s extremely unlikely that they will at some point magically alter their behavior.
Trashes you to others: Some managers put up with way too much of this in the name of being open, understanding, or non-defensive. Please understand—I’m not talking about the employee who respectfully gives you legitimate feedback to your face (to that brave person, I say Kudos, and I hope you do, too). I’m not even talking about the normal employee who vents a bit to a colleague about a decision you’ve made that he or she thinks is dumb. I’m talking about employees who regularly say dreadful things about you to others (that you’re stupid, incompetent, neglectful, dishonest, abusive, or immoral, for instance), or who spread rumors about your personal or professional life. This is simply unacceptable; there is no excuse for behaving this way in a work environment.
So there you have it. If you read through this list and found yourself thinking check, check, check, check about one of your employees, I hope you now feel clearer about what to do.
And one other thing: if you work in a company where people around you are behaving like this and no one is doing anything about it —you might want to look for a job in a company where productive, ethical, collaborative employees like you get rewarded, and employees who act in these seven ways get shown the exit.