Do Your Job And You Won’t Have To Fire Anyone

By Kevin G. Armstrong

Well, this is definitely true in most cases. The manacoach (exceptional manager) who has the courage to proactively have the tough conversations rarely—and I mean hardly ever—has to fire anyone. When I’m sitting with business owners or managers and they say that someone is not “getting it,” I ask, “Does this person know what is expected of him or her?”

The answer is almost always “Yes,” at which point I say, “Show me. Where is the document following a tough conversation where you have clearly communicated where the team member is not meeting critical expectations?”

Unfortunately, there is rarely a letter or a conversation that has taken place. So, the only expectation that I see is that team members are supposed to be able to read the mind of their respective manager.

If an employee is crying or visibly shocked when his manager fires him, it is the manager who should be fired, because nine times out of ten, here is what happened:

The manager observes a performance or behavior issue with a team member. He approaches the team member with the intention of discussing the issue but turns away, thinking “tomorrow.” By the next day, he has either forgotten about it, decided that other issues take precedence, determined that it’s no big deal, or convinced himself that the team member understands the issue. This cycle continues until the manager reaches his limit, decides that enough is enough, and fires the team member. The team member had absolutely no opportunity to respond to the issue or address the perceived problem.

Nine times out of ten, if the manager had sat down with the team member on at least two occasions, had the tough conversations, and followed up the next day with a letter outlining the concerns including a timeline for improvement, the team member’s performance would have come up to standard, or he would have left on his own accord. I have tracked this over the past twenty years, and in over 90% of cases there was no need for firing when this process was followed.

There is no room for ambiguity. The team member must understand from the messages you communicate during your face-to-face discussions and follow-up letters that critical expectations are not being met, as well as the timeline for improvement, before the relationship will end. If you are a manager and are avoiding these types of conversations, I highly recommend two excellent books: Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson and Joseph Grenny, and The Five Temptations of a CEO by Patrick Lencioni.

The magic of “entering the danger zone” with a team member by discussing issues related to performance and behavior is amazing, but it is you that has to take the first step. Identify exactly what the issue is, have three specific examples of where your team member is not measuring up or meeting the critical expectation, and write the letter so that it is clear in your mind what you are going to discuss when you sit down. After the conversation, deliver the letter and expect that the team member might approach you for further clarification, because after receiving the letter, he or she will know that the issue is serious.

Cultures that courageously enter the “danger zone” and have the tough conversations realize it is the path to true organizational health. You can’t polish rocks without friction.

Watch our short whiteboard video on firing for more helpful tips.


Kevin G. Armstrong is a speaker, business advisor, disruptor, and author of The Miracle Manager: Why True Leaders Rarely Make Great Managers with ForbesBooks. Learn more at kevingarmstrong.com.

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