No one likes to talk about firing people. It’s traumatic for all involved.
But ask 100 executives to identify their biggest personnel-related mistake and more than half might say, “I didn’t terminate poor performers soon enough.” The avoidance strategy—waiting too long to act—is the easy way out.
“I’ve learned that I needed to hire people very slowly but fire very quickly,” says Ed Rensi, former CEO of McDonald’s USA. “I want people to succeed, so I’ve given them way too much rope.”
Looking back on his career, Rensi cites examples of giving employees the benefit of the doubt—repeatedly—when he knew that they lacked the skills, attitude or both to make the necessary con-tribution to the company. With each passing month, he confronted more problems and the underperformer struggled mightily just to keep up.
By taking a more aggressive approach with problem employees, Rensi accelerated his time frame for taking decisive action. Whether that meant reassigning the individual to a different job or laying the groundwork for termination, the key was devising a plan and following through within a well-defined timetable.
Yes, the probation-termination process takes time and requires many meetings (often unpleasant!) and much paperwork (often time-consuming!). But in the long run, everyone wins.
“What I’ve found in many cases is that firing them makes them grateful,” Rensi adds. “They know it’s the wrong fit. They know they can’t do the job.They’re just looking for a way to start down a new path.”
Even if you take Ed Rensi’s advice to “fire quickly,” you need to go through some hoops first. Prepare by taking these steps:
Confirm what constitutes proper documentation. Contact your human-resources manager or an employment attorney to review the documentation you need to amass before you fire. This is especially important if you conduct investigations into possible wrongdoing or you have given the employee numerous verbal warnings of.
Brace for emotional displays. People respond unpredictably to news of their termination. Some hotheads will react with surprising meekness, while quiet clams may explode. Gird for a full range of behaviors so that you don’t flinch.
Check the contract. If your organization has an employment agreement with the worker, review it to confirm that your termination will honor its terms.