When is it OK to Fire Someone?


Sitting across the table from Jay, a CEO with one hundred employees, I listened as he talked about firing Geoff, a member of his leadership team who was hired just six months prior.

What went wrong?

“The people on his team don’t like him,” Jay said. “They don’t think he knows what he’s doing.”

I asked him what Geoff needed to do differently to get better results.

Focused on the problem rather than the solution, Jay said, “He doesn’t communicate, nor does he have a vision for the department. No one knows what to expect, and many of them think he’s an ass.”

“How do you intend to handle Geoff?” I asked.

“I have a meeting with him tomorrow. I’m going to tell him what his team has to say about him, and then ask him what needs to be done.”

Cringing at Jay’s plan, I shared a story from my first year as a college athlete:
Early in the season, the head coach of my track team had called me into his office and said, “While you’re on my team, you will follow my rules!”

“What rule am I breaking?” I asked.

“Your high school coach paid me a visit and let me know about the issues he had with you. If you’re going to be part of my team, you had best act like a good team player!”

What he didn’t know was that same coach nearly lost his job during my senior year when he served as head coach. And rather than my college coach helping me understand how to be successful on his team, he showed me that I couldn’t be. That was the last year I competed in track.

Jay nodded his head thoughtfully, as he understood the connection. With that, I suggested he help Geoff gain the skills and experiences needed to be successful.

“What should I say to him?” Jay asked.

Jay’s pen flew across his page of notes as I shared these step-by-step actions:

1. Have a conversation: Start by asking Geoff how he thinks he’s doing, what he’s struggling with, and what he needs to get better results.
2. Set team-goals: Ask what his goals are for the department, and how he’ll know when he has reached success. If he doesn’t know, help him identify one goal, and then request two more within 48 hours.
3. Set career goals: Ask about his career goals, the skills he would like to gain in the next six months, and what experiences he would appreciate having. Again, if he doesn’t know, help him identify one, and then ask for three more within 48 hours.
4. Define roadblocks to success: Ask him what his team needs to reach new levels of success. If he doesn’t know, have him ask each team member these questions and come back with the answers: What are your career goals? What experiences and skills would you like to gain in the next six months? Why? How can I help you do your job even better?

Of course, there’s only one way this approach will work: a shift in perspective. Jay must begin focusing on Geoff’s talents and skills, rather than looking for problems. I can only imagine how dedicated I would have been to my college coach had he chosen to see my potential rather than agree I was problematic.

That said, are there times when firing someone is necessary? Absolutely! We’ll get into that in the next podcast/blog.

Join the conversation: Has anyone ever seen your potential, regardless of perceived problems? Please, share your story below.

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