When You Should Fire Someone… But You Don’t

Should_fire_but_dontBefore we start: this text is not about encouraging companies to go ahead firing whoever they want as it would be no big thing. To lose a job is a serious setback and the decision to dismiss someone must be taken carefully. However, as companies sometimes fire staff members for the wrong reasons, sometimes they keep employees for erroneous reasons as well. This is what this text is about.

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Probably every company knows the situation: you hired someone convinced that the person was the right choice. But he wasn’t. Maybe it was only a month ago and you have already realized that it is not going to work. However, even if you are not convinced about your employee’s performance, you do not want to dismiss him, because:

  • It sucks to get fired (and you do not wish it to anyone)No doubt, to get fired really sucks and it is a painful experience. However, sometimes blessing can only be found in disguise and there is no way around it (or, translated to the corporate language “sometimes you need an opportunity to grow”).Along our career we all might try out different paths and at least from a statistical point of view, mistakes must happen. Sometimes people just fall in the wrong place and need a “clear feedback” to get out of it. Do you know any terrible manager which would be a great integration specialist? The guy knows everything about integration and nothing about management, but keeps wasting his time in a position which brings no good for his career or for the company.Did you know that Robert Redford has been fired when working as a box boy at the supermarket? Great for him and for us that his supermarket career didn’t go well. J. K. Rowling also received a pink slip when working as secretary before starting writing Harry Potter.
  • You have no time to find a substituteIt has already taken so long to find someone to fill the vacancy and you have spent so many weeks training the new employee. You are not thrilled about his performance, but the deadlines are getting closer and you have no choice but to keep him. And, of course, you are convinced that the position is not that important, so, no big deal if you didn’t find the perfect match.Maybe you are right and the position is not that important. Yet.One thing you can be sure of: in 10 years, pushed by the company’s growth, this person will be occupying a more important position than now and what is a stone in your shoe today will be a fetter on your ankle tomorrow.

    Do you remember the old rancher’s joke?

    ‘When you’re driving down a country road and you see a fence post with a turtle balanced on top, that’s a post turtle. You know he didn’t get up there by himself. He doesn’t belong there; he can’t get anything done while he’s up there; and you just want to help the poor, dumb thing down’

    Also, do not put turtles on fence posts. Mismatches might look uncritical at the beginning, but it will become real trouble in the future.

  • It’s only a matter of motivation

    Fortunately, the tayloristic view of work is gone and motivational theories are taking place in management. There is a lot of scientific research going on and most motivational approaches are very promising. The only problem is that some people are getting so excited about it, that they believe to be able to motivate every employee in the world.Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Of course you can achieve a lot motivating your employees in a humanistic way, but not every person can be motivated (at least not in a specific context). It might sound obvious, but many people do forget that scientific research is always about average effects, which only represents the central tendency of the measured variable. This means that even if the average has positively changed, individual effects will usually be spread over a range, varying from positive to negative values. And on top of this variation you will always still have outliers.Therefore, there is no method or vaccine to eradicate lack of motivation of the corporate world. It doesn’t matter which one is your favorite motivational strategy, it will work for some, but it won’t work for everybody. Some people cannot get passionate or motivate about their work and nothings else remain done than rethinking your crew.
  • You are not sure if your employee will find another jobCertainly, if you work for a humane company – and I hope you do – firing someone is more complex than that. Keeping someone who doesn’t really fit is not good for your business, but firing someone is not the best for your employee (at least not in the short-term).Yet, If you are concerned about your employee getting into financial or private problems, it doesn’t mean you have to work together forever. Speak openly to your employee and give him the chance of finding a new position instead of dismissing him. This might alleviate the pressure of finding a new job and is also an honest approach. Or you can get a bit creative. Find a solution together, that will solve both problems – his and yours.

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