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Leadership in the Harbor: A Tough Decision—Do I Fire My Employee?

Harbor view from Washburn Inn

How many times have you figured out that you are the leader because you had to be the one making the tough decisions? The first time I fired, let go, terminated someone (yes, I’ve had to do this more than once), I agonized over the decision and process. All right, agonized is a bit harsh, but I did spend some time considering whether I had done everything I believed I should have done as the boss. One of the most important questions I considered was, had I clearly communicated the expectations?

I’ll share the brief story. In this particular situation, a college student was hired as an intern to support the team, which, in turn, gave them work experience. The intern was to set their work schedule around their school schedule, with the goal of working at least 12 hours per week. If they had an exam or busy week, no problem—just contact the supervisor so we know you are not coming in as planned.

When the person didn’t show or call after a missed work day, they were politely reminded to call in if they had a conflict and could not come in to work. After some time, the person again did not show or call. The person was specifically explained the procedure. I am not saying that these events happened in a short time frame. I am saying that the person did not understand that it was important to show up to work on a schedule they had set.

After a couple of more no shows and no calls, the procedure was explained again and the intern signed a letter that confirmed they understood the procedure and would call.

After the situation continued with some more no shows and no calls, I knew we had to have a talk. This would be the first time I had to fire someone, so I wondered what had gone wrong. Had I done everything properly in my communication? I was so sure that I had that I slept fine the night before I was going to have the “talk.” However, there were two surprising results. One, the intern still had no idea this was coming; and two, the rest of the team responded with “it’s about time.” That tells me that while everyone else knew what needed to be done, the person most responsible did not.

Both parties held completely different perceptions. Clearly, clarity of communication from the boss’s point of view is critical. And even more important, a clear understanding is also imperative. In fact, clearly stating and given written expectations up front, during job assignment, is a matter of vital importance when being the leader.

Perception is not the same as clear communication. Teaching someone how to do the task is easy; however, it’s very difficult to teach common sense or right/wrong. Hire the person who knows common sense and wants to work hard. Do not hire the person that knows how to do the job but doesn’t have the common sense or the work ethic. You also want to be sure you are hiring someone with the same values as your company. People can’t fake values.

Clear communication is not necessarily about telling someone exactly HOW something must be done; it is often about clearly stating WHAT result must be attained. If you have set your team up for success, and the ability to solve problems themselves, and with appropriate safety and legal methods in mind, the job may be done better than if you were to do it yourself.

Clear communication makes the role of leader even easier because when the communication has been clear, the directions will not have to be repeated. Instead, a question process may be used to make the situation even easier: What is the result that we are after? Am I asking for anything to be done illegally, or improperly, or that is impossible? If not, then I want to expect that we have an understanding!

If it’s apparent you do not have that understanding, then refine the process to help the team understand the expectations better. Rinse and repeat until you and the team are on the same page as to how to handle these situations.

If you’d like to have more conversation about leading your team, give us a call. That’s what the Harbor is about—training in the safety of a good learning environment so you’ll be ready to hit the high seas!

#communication #decisionmaking #Leadership

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