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5 Steps on How to Gracefully Fire an Employee

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In this article, we are going to share with you how to fire an employee gracefully without feeling horrible. But do it in a way that gets the job done. Make sure that you’re clear, and that there are no misunderstandings.  We have a belief that it’s higher, slow fire fast. That doesn’t mean that we sit there and we drag our feet as we are building a people plan and trying to hire talent.  But the whole idea is that there are a lot of Hoops that people need to go through to make sure that they are the right fit for your team. But after all of that, after personality assessments, video submissions, test projects, all that stuff, you can still get somebody that’s just an underperformer. They might have started as a rockstar and then slowly degraded over time for whatever reasons. Those are the situations where you got to act and you got to let them move on.

Guy yelling at a fired employee


For example, you had an employee. She worked in my community management Department, and she was incredible. She had all the drive. She got it, she wanted it, she had the capabilities. She was amazing, great culture, and just continuously made mistakes, continuously made mistakes. We are going to walk you through the process that we used to not only let her go but to make sure that she never felt like it blindsided her. 

We think that if you do things right, our belief is if you have somebody that’s underperforming and, you know, right here’s a great question. If we fired everybody that worked for you right now, and in three months, three months down the road, the management gave you permission to hire them back. Who would you enthusiastically hire back? The question is going to be clear on who makes that list. If you do it right, though, they’re not going to feel blindsided. It’s not going to have an impact on your business, and it’s going to make you feel good about the outcome. They will never be a star in your business today. But they could be an incredible resource at another company at the right company, but you are holding them back from even discovering that isn’t fair to you or your team. Here are the five things. The five steps in letting somebody go gracefully.


Step 1: Prep the accounts.

This means looking at the body of work they’re working on, all the different logins all the different accounts, all the different team members that they’ve been interacting with, all the different projects they’ve been accountable for, and auditing that make sure that you have a clear understanding that if they move on that you’ve already thought through all the different levels of access they had, you may not even have the password for certain accounts. You may not even know the name of a vendor that they’ve been working with to get a certain project completed. You want to do a quick audit and prep all the accounts to make sure that you have a hit list that as soon as you have that conversation with them, you’ve got an action plan to transition work and or migrate accounts to somebody else. 

Step 2: Schedule the sit-down.

This is the most important. If you’re going to let somebody go, especially if they’ve been with you for a while. You owe them the courtesy of sitting down, eye to eye. You want to look at them and let them know, hey, this is where we’re at. This is what’s happening. Don’t do it over email, definitely. Video if you have to. But at the end of the day, we just think if somebody has been giving you their work and you’ve been working with them on a team, it is your responsibility to sit down with them and have that conversation person to person. It doesn’t have to be long. It should actually be short. But do that and schedule it.


Step 3: This is not a discussion.

The biggest mistake that people make when they let somebody go is they say, hey, here’s how I’m feeling. And it’s just not working out for me. How do you feel? Then all of a sudden they’re saying, “Well, things are going great. I don’t understand. I know that I haven’t been hitting my numbers, and I know things are going a little tough, but what do you mean?” What are you trying to say right now and then all of a sudden it turns into this crazy discussion about, well, yeah, it’s not my fault you didn’t do this. You said this would happen. Then all of a sudden I had to do all this extra work, and it’s like, Whoa, at the end of the day, it’s not a discussion. It’s very clear. Sit down. Let them know your position is no longer available at this company. Today is your last day. 


Here’s what’s going to happen next. We just want to let you know how much we appreciate the time that you’ve given to the company and the organization. We wish you all the best if you can support us in the transition. We would love to write your recommendation for the next role because a lot of times the person is actually talented. These are the toughest ones. But this is to us, the way we’ve seen it, they’re talented. They’re just not going to work for you. If you run a high-performing SAS environment, a team, a high-performing team. There are a lot of people who are rockstars at other companies because they’re just not as demanding and they don’t have as high of a need. The quality of work is just not where you need it, and you could refer them to somebody else and be totally authentic about that. We can tell them directly that  “Today is your last day. If you help us with the transition, here’s what we can do to support you in that.” If they want to play ball. Good. If not, that’s okay, you execute the transition plan.

Step 4: Remove Access

This is probably the biggest pain that shows up after you’ve let somebody go is when you didn’t have a plan to remove access to certain logins to accounts. The information we’ve seen situations with clients that we coach where a key staff VP of sales takes off and takes their whole account database with them, their customer list. We mean, these are just challenges that you don’t need if you’re just prepped and you do it. If you do all the prep in the account at the beginning and then you have the list of projects that need to be transitioned or accessed, and you make sure that all the logins are reset. The emails are redirected to the right people, so nothing gets dropped. Then it’s actually really straightforward. It might take a couple of hours of work, but then it’s done, and ideally, you do it during the meeting, have somebody on your team, your administrative, your admin team, execute the setting of the passwords and the authentication and the redirecting of who owns what assets and documents.


While you’re having that discussion, let them go. That way, when they’re done everything’s done, if they need access from you to something that was personal, they can ask for it. You can get it for them on their behalf. That’s the way we deal with that.


Step 5: Communicate the reason.

This is probably the thing that’s going to hurt businesses the most because you’re so into it as the founder, as the leader, you’re so into the person and where they’ve fallen short and your frustrations that you don’t realize that from everybody else’s perspective, they look like they were doing a good job. They weren’t as active in meetings and always showing up for the team outings and all that stuff. But man, firing them, that might seem a little bit much for a lot of people. They might actually just totally disagree with your decision. If you don’t communicate with the team if you don’t take the time to set up a quick 15 minutes call with your team, send out an email, and let them know the reasons. Map them back to the values. We hire and fire against values. As we’re communicating why that person is no longer on the team, we have to map it back.


These are the things that we expect of everybody on our team, including yourself, and when they’re not being followed or they’re not being done at the level that we require, then, unfortunately, that role is no longer available for that person in our company. They’re going to go on and do amazing stuff, and we’re going to find somebody incredible to backfill and take that position over. Just make sure that you communicate with the rest of the team and you don’t leave it this open-ended.


What happened to that person? Because how do you treat that person? We call them alumni. How you treat somebody that’s no longer with your company is going to have a huge impact on how people show up on a day to day basis because they don’t want to feel like as soon as they’re no longer part of the organization, you’re going to talk crap about them. You’re going to blame them for everything. That’s not what we are talking about. We are just talking about just being upfront, letting people know where the performance fell short, and it’s totally cool. They’re going to be awesome. You’re going to support them in that transition.


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