Four questions that will help you decide whether or not to let someone go.

Letting an employee go is never easy, but it is even harder without a clear process to think through.

There are many reasons to let someone go— perhaps you are restructuring, trimming your budget, or eliminating divisions within a company. This post, however, deals with performance-based issues.

In my early twenties, I got my feet wet managing multiple stores in a growing pizza chain. In this type of business, employee turnover is rather high. I distinctly remember an owner in the company asking me to go into one of the stores and fire the general manager, who happened to be my boss at the time. I always felt a responsibility to God and the owners of the business to properly manage the place.

I have headed teams in both the profit and non-profit arena for over a decade, and I have learned a lot along the way. While I have never enjoyed letting anyone go, I realize being a team leader means parting ways on occasion. I believe these questions will help you decide whether to make that difficult decision.

1. Have I given them clear expectations?

Without clear expectations, you may think your employee isn’t doing anything you want while he may feel as if he is doing an excellent job. The problem may not be with the person; it may be a clarity issue. It is not fair for you to expect something from the employee that you have not made clear. Dr. Mark Rutland, former president of Southeastern University, once said, “If the key to quality is meeting expectations, you owe your employees a clear explanation of exactly what you expect.”

A little work on the front-end makes your expectations clear. Consider having an employee initial all the pages of their job description as part of the onboarding process. You can use this document as you go through one-on-one meetings or 90-day and annual reviews. The job description can also come in handy when you need to coach the employee on opportunities for improvement or celebrate a job well done. If you are considering letting an employee go, there should be multiple documented conversations about their poor performance and where their shortcomings will lead.

2. Have I given them the resources needed to accomplish what is expected?

Once we have made our expectations clear, we must set our teams up for success by providing the resources necessary to meet our expectations. Conferences, coaching, podcasts, and books are all great resources to develop our teams. When you let someone go, you should feel as if you have done all you can to help that person succeed.

3. Would I hire them today?

This question has to be asked after you’ve answered the first two questions. It may be tough to answer, but it will reveal how you truly view the employee’s performance. Something attracted you to hire them initially; is that quality still there? If you can say yes, there is a chance you may be able to better utilize that person in a different role or department. Sometimes we have the right person in the wrong position.

4. Why do I want to let the person go?

Is our issue with the person’s performance or is it something personal? Someone simply rubbing you the wrong way is not a reason to fire them. In order to be an effective leader, you need to be able to work harmoniously with many different personalities.

If you have worked through these questions and still believe you should let your employee go, it may be time to part ways. I have learned that a person can be a good employee, just not your employee. Believe it or not, many will do better because you let them go. Multiple times I have seen people push themselves after being let go and find a much better opportunity elsewhere.

When it is apparent this is the route you must choose, you should have the hard conversation sooner rather than later. I heard somewhere that you hire slow and fire fast. Follow these tips to part ways amicably:

  • Be clear. Bring the documented proof- performance reviews, disciplinary reviews, etc. – to the meeting.
  • Be gracious, but honest. You shouldn’t be a jerk when you let people go, but you should be honest. This conversation may be a catalyst to a future breakthrough in their life.
  • Be generous. If it all possible within company policy, give your employee a severance package. This can vary greatly depending on the reason for firing, the number of years at your company, the person’s position, what was agreed upon in the employment contract, etc. I believe it is a good idea to lean toward the generous side.
  • Be legal. Make sure you are following all laws- state and local- when it’s time to let someone go. I am not in charge of an HR department and I am not a lawyer, so get input from these two sources if you are unsure of what the law says.

Do you need to clarify your expectations, give employees some needed resources, move someone to a different position, or let someone go?

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