A few years ago, I was listening to an entrepreneur talk about a period in his career where he was firing lots of people. His manufacturing company had many employees and sometimes he would fire as many as five in a day. It appeared that he kind of enjoyed this task. He liked to make a public spectacle of a termination. He’d yell at someone in front of their co-workers and then tell them they were through. And I quote, “There was none of this ‘you’re just not a good fit for this job’ nonsense. Very simply – you’re fired!” Whoa! This sounds cold – maybe even cruel. I don’t agree at all with his approach, but the conversation was positive from the standpoint that it crystallized a concept for me.
Firing equals failure. You may think this is an obvious thing to say – of course the employee who is fired has failed. But I’m looking at it as a failure on the part of the employer. This is a critical distinction for entrepreneurs. The reasons for terminations are numerous. Poor performance, lying, misappropriation of company property, behavior that is contrary to company policy, insubordination, being tardy or excessively absent, drug (or alcohol) abuse during the workday – the list goes on and on. Still, failure mostly falls on us as entrepreneurs when an involuntary separation occurs.
For starters, it’s quite possible that we hired the right person for the wrong job. The current labor market is very difficult for employers, and there can be a tendency to hire job candidates that simply aren’t the right fit. We resolve not to fall into this trap, but weeks later we’re hearing the rumblings from our team that they are overworked as they are covering the vacant position. Productivity is suffering and we finally hire someone who we know is probably “iffy.” We rationalize that we can make this person a project, and with a little mentoring they’ll be fine. The outcome is predictable. It seldom works out – both the mentoring and the new employee.
Hiring the right folks is hard work. Our company needs to at least have a neutral to positive reputation if we expect to attract the kind of talent we need. A negative reputation will likely result in driving away quality talent. A strong positive culture supported by authentic core values will bolster our reputation. Creating comprehensive roles and accountabilities is an absolute must. Actively recruiting new team members is mandatory. Simply posting a position on an online recruiting website isn’t enough anymore. We must do everything in our power to create a large pool of qualified candidates from which to choose.
Once we have prospects for a vacant position, we need to pull out the stops to find the sparkling diamond that adds value to our organization. Testing, psychological profiling and multiple interviews with different members of the management team are standard fare. Background checks and drug screening are also part of the process. Interviews must be carefully crafted to develop the full picture of an individual – strengths, weaknesses, traits, tendencies and even danger signals. Here’s the bottom line. It’s on us if we don’t hire the right person to begin with. And if we must fire someone because they weren’t the right person, that firing is our failure.
When we terminate someone’s employment, we must also take an introspective look at our own performance. We may have hired the right person for the right job, but did we do our part? How well did we train our new team member? Or was it the famous, “here’s your desk, here’s your phone, lots of luck, you’re on your own?” Another common rationalization for lack of solid training goes like this, “John Doe was in a similar position at Company X. We’re a fast-paced organization and we don’t have time to train people who ought to already know what to do based upon their level of experience.” There may be a grain of truth to this but for the most part, every new team member needs to be trained. The training may be less focused on the mechanics of doing the job and more centered around our company’s way of serving the customer, maintaining efficiency, being safe and increasing productivity. If we must fire someone because they weren’t sufficiently trained, that firing is our failure.
Finally, we must ask ourselves whether the team member we are terminating had the proper tools and/or resources to do their job. How unfair is it to fire someone when we haven’t provided such basic elements to ensure his or her success? You probably wouldn’t be surprised to know how often this happens due to budgetary constraints. We expect someone to do their job perfectly, but then we hold the purse strings so tightly that they can’t even meet minimum standards. If we must fire someone because they didn’t have the necessary tools and resources, that firing is our failure.
Firing a member of our team is nothing to celebrate. In fact it is often a failure of our leadership and can be prevented by putting the right person in the right job; providing sufficient training, and making sure to provide the proper tools and/or resources.
This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.