Four principles for how to fire someone correctly

Edited excerpt from How To Fire An Employee — The Right Way by Mitchell Harper:

Nothing slows down a startup like bad hiring — except when you keep those bad hires around for longer than you should. The key to firing lies in 4 principles:

1. The employee should see it coming – they should know in advance that being let go is a real possibility if they don’t improve.

2. They should be given a chance to improve — they need to know exactly what you expect of them and should agree to meet that one key, measurable goal within a specific time period.

3. Their ego should never be damaged — help them transition out of the role by providing a reference, reaching out to your network and providing 1-4 weeks of severance; most people can find a new job, but they have to break the bad news to their partner, kids and friends.

4. Never lie to your other employees about why the person was fired — be brief, but make it clear they were fired for performance reasons. This helps set a culture based on performance, not politics or tenure.

(1) Re. “Nothing slows down a startup like keeping bad hires around for longer than you should” — see Five bad excuses to avoid firing poor performers, and why you should “expose the pain”.
(2) Re. “help them transition out of the role by providing a reference and reaching out to your network” — I’m not sure how you can do this if you fired them for poor performance. Advice, anyone?
(3) Re. “Their ego should never be damaged” — listening to their feedback helps; see Exit interviews.

8 thoughts on “Four principles for how to fire someone correctly

  1. Your (2) question is a good one.

    Another point I’d make is that 1 week of severance is a bit niggardly. 2 weeks is the minimum, but better to be much more generous, if you can afford it.

    • Dave, totally agree with your point about severance. We pay a minimum of 4 weeks in Seeking Alpha, and sometimes considerably more depending on length of tenure, reason for departure, and seniority of the employee (it often takes more senior people longer to find another job).

  2. Typically because their idea performance in the current role may not be sufficient, but their past performance, their skills, and capabilities are likely to be a good match for someone else.

  3. “Their ego should never be damaged.” It’s hard to take that line seriously. Maybe, “Terminate them with respect by giving generous severance, and helping them with their transition in any way feasible.”

  4. Almost everyone has redeeming qualities. Even though they may not be suited for this position, try to emphasize what went well but explain why ultimately it wasn’t the right match for the company.

  5. Pingback: Don’t fire people on a Friday | A Founder's Notebook

  6. Pingback: Should you enforce a non-compete clause for an employee you fired? | A Founder's Notebook

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