Would you fire this person?

A CEO friend called me yesterday with the following question:

“A senior manager in my organization has strong domain knowledge and is in some ways highly effective. But he demotivates his team members, for example by taking tasks from them because he says he can do them better. I also personally find him hard to work with: he tries to stop me from handling key negotiations where I have a better relationship with the other party, and fails to deliver on my requests. My options are: fire the manager, split his role into two and put him in a newly defined role where he doesn’t manage people, or try to work with him to improve. Which should I choose?”

What would you advise?

I tried to help the CEO make her decision by sharing my experience with this sort of situation generally. Here’s what I learned running Seeking Alpha:

  • The happiness of the team really matters. Sometimes you need to fire strong people because they are not pleasant to work with.
  • Don’t redefine a job description because of the incumbent’s deficiencies. When you eventually hire the right person, you’ll be surprised that you can in fact have everything, particularly if you give smart people time to learn.
  • Shunting people around from role to role rarely works. CEOs sometimes do it because they can’t bring themselves to fire someone. But if you can’t bring yourself to fire, you’ll end up not being able to hire.
  • Demoting people rarely works. Even if they are initially relieved at no longer having to do something they aren’t good at, in the medium term the demotion saps their self esteem and they leave.
  • As CEO, make sure you like working with your senior managers. If you’re unhappy, your company will feel it.
  • Good interpersonal skills are intrinsic to a manager’s job.
  • If you decide to keep the manager, make sure you have clear metrics for him. That way you’ll get out of subjective evaluation of his skills.

Notes:
(i) Cf. The best thing you can do for your team.
(ii) Cf. Laszlo Bock’s eight steps to being a good manager.
(iii) Cf. Managers and metrics.
(iv) Cf. Five bad excuses to avoid firing poor performers, and why you should “expose the pain”.

3 thoughts on “Would you fire this person?

  1. Not easy, but what about tactfully confronting the manager in question with your situation and your options and see what they suggest?

  2. Get a fact-based view of the situation first, it seems that this was written on the fly. I would suggest installing a 360 feedback to get a clear view of the situation.

    Perhaps this is a case of ineffective leadership and he needs to learn to delegate and motivate? If that is the case, develop him into that leadership role.

    When it comes to delivering on requests, was the communication to the senior manager ambiguous? Perhaps he fails to deliver because of the large workload that he keeps taking due to an ineffective delegation.

    Firing seems a bit rash at the moment, I would suggest leaner methods (as aforementioned) to solve the problem before deciding to let him go.

  3. I’m commenting without any knowledge of the size of the business and how important this person is, but I would fire. If the CEO and his team can’t work well with person, it’s not a good fit and is time to move on. If s/he has skills and knowledge necessary to the businesses operations, then reassign with the hopes of finding a good fit.

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