How to (Actually) Fire Someone

How to (Actually) Fire Someone
Thomas Thompson
April 12, 2022
min read

So it comes to this.  You have to fire someone today.  

You have already asked the Five Questions Before You Fire, you’ve made the decision, but now you have to let them go.

But, how do you actually fire someone? Consider these 7 practical steps: 

1. Set the right time. 

Call the employee that day and ask for a meeting.  Don’t set it for days later and give them time to worry about it.  It helps to do it towards the end of the day, or on a day when less staff are around.  This should be a 15-30 minute meeting tops.

2. Set the right room. 

Have a witness present, HR, a supervisor and shut the door.

3. Set the right tone. 

Don’t hem and haw, talk about the weather, ask about their kids, or speculate on the Broncos’ chances this season.  Within the first 60 seconds, lay it out on WHY this meeting is happening.

4. Set the right words. 

Be clear and unequivocal.  Try, “We’ve asked you here because we have decided you are not the right person for this job, and this is not the right job for you.  We have decided to let you go.”    Practice this sentence until you can say it clearly and with confidence.  Don't say we are “thinking about it.”  Clear is kind.  They need to know a decision has already been made and we are moving forward.

5. Set the right response. 

They may give you all kinds of excuses. They may ask all kinds of questions.  They may offer all kinds of deals.  You say, "I hear what you are saying, but we have decided that this is not the right job for you and you are not the right person for this job."  Be firm.  Key:  If you are swayed in this moment, then you have made a major mistake walking into this meeting undecided and unprepared.  Revisit the Five Questions first.

6. Set the right timeline. 

This is not the time for a lot of details–there is a lot to absorb.  But you can give them a timeline of what to expect over the next few days and weeks.  This can include discussion of severance, expectations, handoffs, etc.  But remember, this is a short meeting to allow them to process that this phase of their work life is over.

7. Set the right face. 

This is a good time to land on how you will communicate to people outside the room.  Tell them the plan you have to communicate to the team, the organization, the congregation.  Try to agree on some language.  Note:  it is okay to negotiate a little, e.g. “Is it okay if we wait a day for me to tell my team?” Know that no matter what plan you have put in place, once this person understands they have been fired, their response is out of your hands.  Once the shock wears off, and denial or anger sets in, people can be unpredictable  But you still need to plan for the best.

Some of the hardest moments in my leadership have been in the moments after a fired employee walks out of the room. But at the same time, these moments have held a powerful sense of relief that it is done, and both this person and the organization can begin moving forward into a better future.

Firing someone is a skill.  Sadly, one that you will have to learn.  Having some of these practical steps set before the meeting will help everyone begin to step into what’s next.

I'd love to talk with you more about this. Shoot me an email and let's help your employee and your organization step into a better future today.

Photo by Jornada Produtora on Unsplash

I founded Thompson Leadership to come alongside leaders like you. Together, we will unpack your unique leadership, unearth your biggest challenge, and create an action plan to close the gap between where you are and where you want to be.
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