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Business Mistake: Firing Employees Improperly

If you are a business owner, or you are starting a business, then you will undoubtedly face the dilemma of firing an employee.

There are a million reasons to fire an employee, and about a million ways to perform this bitter task. Today, we are talking about firing employees improperly.

Naturally, you probably think I’m going to say “don’t scream, shout, and swear.” I agree, that is not the proper way to do it, but when I say “improper” I’m really looking at it from the perspective of its effect on your business.

The employee might have made you angry, or made an egregious error, but how can firing this employee affect you?

Speaking With Entrepreneurs

I speak with entrepreneurs on a daily basis, and I hear one common problem constantly: “This person is no longer with the company, and I can’t do [fill in the blank with a task]!” This sentence is code for “I fired this person without figuring out what they do, and how they do it.”

Essentially, entrepreneurs sabotage themselves by firing an employee without figuring out what their next move is. Once that employee is gone, they realize the report they use everyday isn’t magically appearing in their inbox, or the orders aren’t being tracked, or important people aren’t being contacted when they should be.

The Hidden Value of an Employee

Often, entrepreneurs learn the hard way that an employee they just let go, actually did quite a bit. Maybe it was their personal bias towards the employee, or they took the simple things for granted, but all of a sudden, things aren’t moving as smoothly as they once did. A very common issue is the entrepreneur is unable to access all the software systems they need to run business, or they don’t even know what software to use!

What this tells me is the employee they fired was the lifeblood of their daily operations, and the entrepreneur really had no idea what this person actually did for the business. This isn’t to say that the firing was not justified, but it should have been handled in a much more graceful way. Now, the entrepreneur is flying by the seat of their pants just trying to keep the business moving! How should this be done differently?

Cool down before firing employees

Firstly, you must cool down. No one thinks well when they are angry. It doesn’t matter how egregious the issue was, you need to calm down in order to think rationally. Cooling down also involves not talking to the employee about what happened. You need to stop, walk away, and calm yourself.

Consider the employee’s circumstances

What would you have done differently? Think about the situation the employee was in as well. I know many businesses tell employees to leave their personal life at the door, but no one can truly do that. What lead up to the problem, and what other options were available? Don’t think about it from your perspective either, consider the employees perspective, what other options could they have feasibly done with their experience, connections, and resources?

Consider your expectations of that employee. Were you setting unrealistic goals for them? Were you placing too much pressure on them, or could your expectations be so high that they cut corners, or made rush decisions just to perform to the level you expect? It’s good to push employees to excel, but you can also cause burnout, stress, and bad decisions.

Accident VS. Carelessness

Was the mistake founded in carelessness, or an accident? As you know, no one is perfect. This isn’t to say that accidents don’t have consequences, but something that is an accident should probably have a smaller penalty than something that happened our of carelessness.

Knowledge Transfer

If you absolutely have to let an employee go, then you must perform a “knowledge transfer.” Whether you learn the information by observation, or by asking them, you need to learn a few key things:

  • What do they do everyday?
  • How do they do it?
  • Can you do it or do you need to replace them?
  • At the worst, can you survive without it?

These are important questions to answer, or you could end up like many of the entrepreneurs that consult with me every day. You need to learn the ins-and-outs of what they do. It is normal to know an employee’s job description when they come into the business, and have no clue what they do years later.

As new processes, products, services, and customers come in, peoples’ job descriptions tend to change as they take on the tasks necessary to keep everything running. Don’t just assume that you know what they do. You also need to assess whether you can replace them or not. If you don’t have the technical skills, then you may need to move onto the next point.

Hiring a Replacement Employee

Sometimes, you just don’t have the skills to replace the employee yourself. If that is the case, then it would be best to find a suitable replacement, and have the current employee train them on what they need to do. I know this sounds somewhat deceptive, but it may be necessary to keep things moving. I’m not saying to lie to your employee. Having them train their replacement is one of the most equitable ways to maintain your business’ continuity.

Ultimately, I’m trying to just say: don’t fire an employee until you know its actual impact, and what to do after it. There is no room in a business for rash decisions, and carelessness.

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