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Have you ever had to fire a really nice person?
Terminations and layoffs are never fun (if they are fun for you, please seek help). But they are all the worse when you’re faced with letting go of someone you genuinely like. It’s much easier to fire jerks!
So what do you do when faced with parting ways with a nice person?
In our executive search work at Vanderbloemen, we specialize in faith-based organizations. Some people might think that Christian organizations don’t have to fire people, but they do. And whether you run a corporate business or a Christian organization – at some point, everyone has to face handling how to fire someone. I’m learning that involves firing friendly people, and I’m learning how to do that more graciously as I go.
Our COO, Sutton Turner, came out of the business world to be the Executive Pastor (think COO) at a huge church that went through a severe crisis resulting in lots of layoffs and terminations. He says that when he arrived, layoffs and terminations were not done well. He went on to tell me (and to write about) how one of the greatest lessons he learned was handling terminations with unusual grace and not just as a cold business decision.
When it comes to terminations, preparation is critical. Here are some tips he’s shared, and some that I’m learning about how to lay off staff in a way that’s honoring and kind to them.
1. Prepare by regularly naming your “red cards.”
I’ve learned that every leader should have a well-documented list of “red card” offenses that lead to immediate termination that their staff is very clear on. They should also be frequently communicated. For example, my friend Dave Ramsey has drawn a line in the sand about gossip. You only get one warning. After that, your choice to gossip is your choice to get fired. Maybe it’s not gossip for you, but naming your “red cards” and communicating them to the team can help when you have to terminate someone suddenly. That way, when someone chooses to behave in a way that would “draw a red card,” the employee and the rest of your team know that they have made their own choice to place themselves off the workforce.
2. Document patterns.
Be sure that the termination is correct and needed. Beyond the immediately terminable offenses, keep a record of patterns of performance or behavior that is contrary to expectations. I tell folks all the time, “there’s power in the pattern.” Humans are human, and we are prone to make errors. Rather than flying off the handle at mistakes, look for and name patterns. People make dumb mistakes all the time that can be fixed. But patterns are rarely broken. Pointing them out will make termination more of a necessary ending than a harsh business move.
3. Seek wise counsel to make sure the termination is necessary.
Before you execute a termination, seek wise counsel from your board or coworkers or leaders. Myopia is a real thing, particularly when it comes to personnel. It’s very easy when frustrated with a staff member to make decisions based on emotion rather than wisdom. Asking a person who is removed from the situation for counsel could help prevent an unnecessary firing.
All of this may sound like a lot of work and time. While I believe in the wisdom of “hiring slowly and firing quickly,” I’m learning that “firing quickly” often means making the decision quickly, but walking through a process that takes time.
Firing people is never easy. I’d even say the day it does get easy for you is the day you need to start counseling. But it doesn’t have to be an ungracious experience. Ending someone’s job is a life-changing, super important moment that must be handled with care. Follow the steps we are learning, try to do the difficult task of firing with a gracious spirit, and I believe you’ll be rewarded in the long run.