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Three Questions for a Leader to Ask before “Firing”

I was in a networking group recently where someone suggested the hypothetical subject for a future speaker topic: “How Do You Fire Someone?”

I’ve been on all sides of this equation. I’ve hired, and I’ve fired. Additionally, I’ve been hired, and I’ve been fired. In general, all hiring is better than all firing; but one’s success is determined by one’s own determination, personal integrity, and opportunities, many of which we create.

My three favorite examples of people who were “fired”: Michael Jordan—cut from his high school basketball team; Albert Einstein—initially labeled as dull or autistic; and Richard Branson—dyslexic and didn’t do well academically. Each of these could have believed what others said about them, but instead, they chose to ignore other’s perceptions, believe in themselves, and rise to the top. The results: One of the best NBA basketball players ever; a genius who discovered and/or proved many mathematical equations; and a successful businessman having a net worth that makes him a billionaire, not to mention owning an island. Personally, I think that is pretty “cool.”

The situation that I was involved in recently resulted in a fairly drastic reaction. Before I tell you the story, we need to recognize that I am only sharing one side of the story.

I was a member of a networking organization, and my membership was revoked exactly two weeks to the day after I sent an email that was perceived as negative regarding the network organization. Now, I could share the email, and it is not that I am unwilling to share it, but anything can be perceived differently when it is read through another person’s “lens” of anger, happiness, sadness, or frustration. Your emotional state affects the way you “see” a situation.

As I said, I can only share one side of the story because there was no other communication. No one contacted me in any manner to say that they had found offense. Of course, it might be easier to understand if there had been SOME other communication in those two weeks. I had no idea until I received the email saying my membership was revoked, and then a phone call from someone I have never met or spoken to. The call was to make sure that I saw the email regarding my membership. Afterward, I did find it an ironically amusing situation for an organization that boasts about relationship building.

I don’t know how you feel about “firing” someone, or about being fired, or about losing one’s membership. I go through at least a minimal amount of emotional anxiety. Am I doing the right thing (for me and the organization)? Have I done the right things (for me, the company, and anyone else involved)?

Dealing with issues involving people is rarely easy. And for some, this situation may lead to the dangerous path of no action, often making the long-term situation even worse.

In a growth environment, it is impossible to get away from the hiring stage; however, wouldn’t it be great to not have to be in the “firing” realm any more than necessary?

This all leads to the first question you should ask yourself when considering firing someone:

  1. Why was this person hired initially, and what is the situation now that there is a consideration to fire?

One may choose to defend their thought process, and I have no doubt some of it is quite justifiable. One probable reaction is that you were not the hiring person. And, of course, one does not hire with the intention to fire. Consider, then, what is the equipping process after a person is hired? Is there one?

This leads to two more specific questions:

  1. What is done for the best employees to keep them motivated, challenged, engaged, and equipped for growth within the organization?

  2. What is done for the lower-performing employees to keep them motivated, challenged, engaged, and equipped so they do not stay at this level of performance, which eventually should lead to a decision as to whether their employment should be terminated?

By continually investing in the growth of employees, the base level of performance is constantly nurtured. Some companies offer growth opportunities to their employees. Others do not. What is the difference? The answer—mindset, either an abundance mindset or a scarcity mindset.

Abundance mindset is when the company offers ways and means to help a person develop within their job. An abundance mentality allows for a company to invest in the person and their growth even though it is difficult to point to the effect it has on bottom-line return on investment (ROI).

It is the scarcity mindset that looks at how much something costs and ask the question, “How will this help us to be profitable?” Additionally, it asks the question, “If we train people, will they leave and take their training knowledge elsewhere?”

If an organization does not currently offer training, that doesn’t mean they will never offer training. Nor does it answer question number one. Digging a little deeper, if there is an issue and a perception that an employee is doing something improper, there are two basic approaches:

  1. Assume the person is just wrong and “fire” them.

  2. Ask the person about their actions, get clarity, and understand their intent. Correct what needs to be corrected, even if it is your own understanding.

One may be able to clarify the situation and move forward while keeping the person and avoiding the whole firing/hiring process and the work involved. Additionally, the clarity of the situation may even build the relationship, which is ultimately the best for both parties.

Talking to people with whom we have a misunderstanding is the only way to build a relationship.

Not training people is a poor attempt to justify how to keep the people one has.

This reminds me of a recent leadership training by Chris Goede, VP of corporate solutions at the John Maxwell Company. He gave an introductory talk to 60-plus people at the Continental ContiTech Manufacturing plant in Lincoln, Nebraska, regarding The 5 Levels of Leadership, a book written by John C. Maxwell. Chris asked the question: Which is worse—training good people and they leave or not training people and they stay?

I would love to dig deeper into this topic surrounding “firing” someone and building your company’s abundance mindset. If you are aware of any upcoming professional training, consider these three questions as you decide whether to have your team members participate or participate yourself. Remember, when someone thinks abundantly, they get information from both sides of a story. When someone thinks in scarcity, they make decisions with a one-sided perspective that may be incorrect, or at least incomplete.

Best regards to the development of your teams! Who knows where you might meet the next Michael Jordan, Albert Einstein, or Richard Branson of your own story.

If Leadership Harbor can help your organization develop your hire/fire/people development, please give us a call. There’s never a charge to investigate options.

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