MBA Mondays: Asking An Employee To Leave The Company
I don't like using terms like "fire" or "terminate." To me they have too much emotion attached to them to be appropriate when splitting with an employee. I like to say that "fred was asked to leave the company" or "fred, we need you to leave the company." That works better for me and, I think, it also works better for the person who is being asked to leave the company.
But more than how to say it, I think how you do it is paramount. Here are some simple rules along with some color commentary on each:
1) Be quick – once you've made a decision to let someone go, move quickly to do it. Don't procrastinate. Do get things buttoned up (terms of departure, departure date, how it will be communicated, etc) but once you've got things in order, have the conversation.
2) Be generous – Unless the employee has acted in extreme bad faith or done something terribly wrong, I like to be generous on the way out. I like to give some severance even if it is not required by company policy or contract. I like to vest some stock that may not be required to be vested. I like to paint the departure in as favorable light as possible. And I like to say good things about the person once they are gone. I like to be generous in financial terms and emotional terms. It makes things go easier for everyone.
3) Be clear – Do not beat around the bush. Start the conversation with the hard stuff. They will be leaving the company. Be clear about when and how. And be clear about the financial terms and other aspects of the separation. Do not mince words and do not say confusing things. Most employees in this situation will ask for reasons. Have them lined up in advance and be clear and crisp when describing the reasons. The reasons for a split do not have to be the employee's fault. They can, and often are, the company's fault. In startups, employees are almost always at will and it is the CEO's right to ask anyone to leave the company for any reason. So just be as honest as possible, be clear and crisp about the reasons, and don't turn this into a long involved discussion.
4) Get advice – There are some situations where the company has some potential legal exposure in these situations. When you are a small company, ask your lawyer about the specific situation so you know when you have one of them on your hands. When you are a larger company, your HR team should know when you have one of these situations on your hands. But make sure you are appropriately advised about a departure before sitting down and having the conversation. In the off chance you have a tricky situation, you will need to handle it differently and you will need advice on how to do that beyond what is written in this post.
5) Communicate – Once the employee has been told about their departure, you should immediately communicate it to those who will be affected in the company. For executives and co-founders, that means the entire company. So figure out how you are going to have that conversation immediately after you have the conversation with the departing employee. Be consistent with your messaging. Don't tell a departing employee one thing and the team another. People talk. And they will quickly figure out that you are spinning, bullshitting, or something worse if you give different messages.
When an employee is asked to leave the company there are two constituencies you need to think about. The first is the departing employee. The second are the remaining employees. How you deal with the departing employee will be noticed by the remaining employees. Even if the departing employee was not liked, a bad cultural fit, or worse incompetent, the remaining employees will have some empathy for them on the way out and if you handle it well, that will send an important message to the team. I find that a lot of inexperienced managers miss this nuance and it hurts them. They think they need to "look strong" to the team. They do. But they also need to look fair and humane. This is a big opportunity to do that.
I will finish with a few words aimed at the boss' own psyche and then suggest some further reading on this topic.
Asking someone to leave the company is never easy. I don't know anyone who enjoys doing it. But it comes with the territory. You don't have to learn to like it, but you have to learn to do it well. The thing that helps me and, I believe, helps everyone in this situation is knowing that you are doing the right thing for the company, the remaining team, and all the stakeholders in the business including customers, partners, investors, etc. When you put it in those terms, doing this unpopular chore becomes a bit easier.
If you'd like to read more on this topic, I think Ben Horowitz has written well on this subject a few times. I found these links below from Ben's writings and would encourage you to go and read them.
Preparing To Fire An Executive
As someone who has unfortunately been on the receiving end of this… I think that it can also be a good decision for the person being “asked to leave the company” as well. Sometimes the fit is just not right, and most likely the person won’t see that right away, but its better to part ways than be in a situation that isn’t working out for either side.
yes, that is often the case
Good on you, @benapple:disqus — I was on the receiving end of this at one point as well, and it definitely took me a few months of unemployment to realize that while I loved the company that had just dropped me, the role/department was not the right fit for either of us. Once I realized that, I let go of a bit of anger…though I’m not going to lie, there’s a little resentment still, years later, at how poorly it was communicated. Just goes to show how important a well-planned extrication process is for both parties!
Regarding being generous, what do you think about giving the employee some time before leaving? I think that can be of huge value for him to search for a new job while still employed. But on the other side, they can be distracting and/or toxic for all the others.
Thats where severance comes in
I was not thinking in financial terms. I was referring to the fact that searching for a job when unemployed puts you in a weaker position, so having a few weeks can go a long way.
i think you need to get them out of the office. severance gives them time to find something new. but not in the office.
‘not inside the office’ … YES.They ‘may’ (most likely will) spread some bad vibrancy to the company atmosphere.
And out of empathy to the dismissed employee they likely would not want to sit in the office as ‘dead man walking’. Uncomfortable for them.
Yup. When given the option to “go home, but still get 2 weeks’ pay OR come in for the next 2 weeks”, I initially chose the latter. After 1.5 days of coming in, knowing my days were numbered, I said “screw this; I’m taking my severance and going home.” No matter how much your coworkers like you, and how nice everyone is, it’s just awkward for the employee (and for everyone around him) to come into work after being “asked to leave.”
I appreciate the forthrightness and openness that you recommend and especially the part about taking responsibility (as appropriate) for the situation not working out rather than placing unfair blame on the departing team member. It is a devastating enough experience as it is for the person asked to leave without also walking away with unfair blame. Seems like not having a clear and accurate reason (or set of reasons) would also obstruct any genuine personal growth the person could experience from the situation.It doesn’t surprise me that you recommend generosity in terms of severance, etc.”…don’t turn this into a long involved discussion” Do you not see value in doing an “exit interview” to get feedback/input from the person about what went wrong — especially if this is a potential learning experience for the management team as well?Also, what about informing people outside the company that the person had dealings with? Seems like this can be as important as communicating the departure internally.
i like exit interviews
.Exit interviews have to be conducted after the swelling goes down and the pain has receded.What do you want to learn?Don’t have the firer conduct the interview.I think they are usually of questionable value in a small company..
I think that for people that quit they are invaluable but you have to take them with a grain of salt.For people that you fire, I think its best to just move on. You are correct you can’t do it when you fire them, so all you are doing is dredging up bad memories later on.
Great post. Acting quick and being clear and concise is key.Great communication is for me the one thing most people screw up and it ends up making the whole thing a big mess even if you did everything else right. If you’re letting someone reasonably senior go, it could well take a couple of days to spend time with other Exec’s, managers, send out clear email comms to wider teams etc. I often write a full on comms plan before hand and once you get into it you realise that there are normally quite a few people to tell and in a certain order.Ben Apple – totally agree. Some (perhaps most) of the time the individual won’t necessarily see that this is the right decision of them at the time which makes it even harder for the person doing the ‘letting go’ to stick to their decision and go through with it. You just have to remain confident this is the right decision for the company and usually the individual too.Fred – love the employee focused posts lately and love reading the blog in general – keep it up 🙂
Except for ‘integrity’ issue … be nice with your employees who are leaving on their own or being asked to leave.They will be promoters or demoters working outside our PR regime….for our next hires.
@disqus has not still corrected the ‘MOD’ issue … i see ‘MOD’ against my name until i refresh if i reply to ‘fred’ and on comments there after i make on the main post.
they are playing around with this actively right now. this is not a permanent solution.
As a scooterist, and a hardcore Who fan, I thought they were simply labelling me a Mod as opposed to a Rocker: http://goo.gl/2RGU7
better than hipster
I’ve ‘fired’ several employers over the years. At the beginning it was hard, but as time went by it became easier and easier. The majority of employers are bad.
employees or employers?
They were employers. I learned.
ha …. ha… ha. Good one.But there must be some company which fits your interest and your way of working.
Yes, the one I build myself 🙂
and now the catch is … let us now see what you do with the employee you find unfit.Firing employers is a lot easier than firing an employee 🙂
Being good at firing may indicate being bad at hiring.
hah, was thinking the same
That’s a shame. It doesnt have to be that way
It doesn’t have to be that way, but I agree that if the time comes one needs to be quick, one needs to be decisive. Recognizing that the time has come then becomes ‘the decisive moment’, as Henri Cartier-Bresson said. .
I like the approach Zappos uses. They will pay new employees to quit. What’s your take on this approach? I’ve yet to hear of any other companies that have done this approach. It might be only the call center employees, yet it’s interesting to think about this approach. It could prevent asking an employee to leave later on.
I don’t have any experience with that approach
I’ve yet to hear of anyone else. I know one of your companies that would reward people from the community for finding a new hire.
It’s a formal severance package, many companies have them in place. The requirements are very open though. My old company Raytheon had a good policy, 2 weeks pay for every year worked if you were laid off.
This is a good position to be in, especially if a company feels so confident they will reward someone in this instance. It would be good going into a company knowing this as well, gives the new employee confidence in the company as well.
No, what Eric is talking about is that as a part of the training process they offer to pay you a couple of weeks salary if you want to quit. It only applies to that moment in time. Its interesting because it does two things. If you don’t think you are a fit you can quit and make a chunk of change. If you stay you think look I gave that up. Human nature means that strengthens your belief that you are at the right place.
Got it Phil, different psychology behind the quit now and severance package
I think it really only works for call center and warehouse employees. The difference is you have to hire a lot of relatively low paid workers, versus one or two highly paid workers.
Yes, that’s correct. It works better for call center, yet that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be applied to other departments. This has been a good marketing tactic, as they’ve certainly publicized their business in major business publications to use this as a story. I’m wondering if this pitch would work for other companies. I’m sure they’ve made a lot more in sales because of this pitch.
I know Alfred Lin (former CFO) and he is my hero. So many CFO’s are bean counters wrongly calculating ROI, turning short term gains into long term losses. Two things he did were to pay people to leave and staunchly refuse to have systems to monitor how fast and how many calls a call center employee handled. You know I am going to write about that.
why was 2 so important?
Because almost all call centers have those systems. Have you ever been “accidentally” hung up on? Most likely its because the call center employee realized your problem was going to take too long. Worse the systems are used to beat down the employee and as shit flows downhill you get the results, but the short term ROI is great as you increase your call volume per employee by 10%
“monitor how fast and how many calls a call center employee handled.””Have you ever been “accidentally” hung up on? “Typical call centers are garbage in garbage out for a reason. So I’m not sure Zappos can be duplicated in many places or in every situation by trying to be them.Zappos controls on the hiring and does so in a way that won’t necessarily work given the type of clients and profit of a typical call center. It’s an outlier. They hire people I believe who are of a certain demographic and personality type and screen pretty carefully to make sure everyone fits with their ethos.(Example: I had a recent experience with Pitney Bowes where they shifted their customer service overseas to the Philipines. I actually wrote a letter to the CEO (that’s right a postal letter took a second and .45 stamp). I then got the royal treatment from an employee in the US who explained that they had shifted everything overseas to save money. Because their business is shrinking. Duh. They used to have great CS people here when they were profitable (like hometown ladies from Connecticut that sounded human not like robots). But they couldn’t afford that anymore so then went overseas.In other words something that works in Starbucks with the type of clientele or employee group will not work in Dunkin donuts with their clientele, environment etc. Working in a shitty DD with fluorescent lights is not the same as working in Starbucks. And working in the Apple store is not the same as Best Buy. Walmart is not Norstrom. Environment or clientele.
Philip, I think that both of those downvotes are accidentally from me…an iPad thumbo when I was trying to give you a +1. (Many moons ago, I ran a bank call center.) @shanac, can you fix that?
No issue whatsoever, and that is exactly why I don’t like anonymous downvotes. It is exactly like going to the personnel department and “having them listen and expect their support”.It rewards the tattlers and the haters. She who goes first wins and the other person is on the defensive and has to defend herself, regardless of the facts.
Sorry about that!Folks from Disqus, if you happen to catch this, my second “downvote” came because I was trying to correct the first one (“unlike” on FB)! It would be awesome if we could do that here.
I have the same problem on my phone– hitting the wrong things.. I hate typing comments on my phone. Thankfully, you can reverse your vote by tapping again.
That’s where the second downvote seemed to come from! I was afraid to go near it again…
I know of a company (service) which has more than 100,000 employees has/had an unwritten policy of not firing any employee for performance issue … whatever be the level … new-entrant to VP level… the philosophy by the CEO of that company is …”You hired a person and it is your responsibility to train that person to fit to the work or find a work that fits the employees capability”
With a large company, 100,000+ employees, you have the ability to move people around. Startups, a little bit, though the person I think would have to have the expectation first set that you don’t know exactly what they’ll be doing – and hopefully they have multiple things they enjoy doing.
I worked for a Japanese firm that believes in lifelong employment, and practices that policy formally in the Japan headquarters operation. While that commitment is wonderful in a world of instability in the workplace you can often encounter a large swath of mediocrity when some portions of the employee base understand that they will likely never be let go…
I worked for Mitsubishi Corporation. I agree. I think that many people will work to a level above the bottom five percent. If you never get rid of people that are not performing they do in fact bring other people down.
@twitter-202248892:disqusYes. I also heard ‘Japanese’ take employment as marriage (both employer and employee) … may be that changed now due to globalization etc.,etc.,
“You hired a person and it is your responsibility”One of the mistakes I made was not taking the same attitude with employees who were co-workers. In other words saying that it was part of their job to make sure the new hire worked out not to just take the easy route and blame things on them or say they couldn’t do the job or even sabotage them. I went through several years of a top machine operator not wanting to have other operators do well because then he wouldn’t be top dog and the pet of the company. In retrospect I might have gotten around that problem by having him meet the person in advance of the hiring decision, buying in, and then taking ownership of the person’s success. Even if it was not practical to do that by having at least some tie in and benefit to the new person’s success this might have made them co-work in a more helpful fashion.
Is that company US based or in India by any chance? A company’s responsibility is of course to train and coach an employee, but sometimes this doesn’t work out.
@wmoug:disqus yes. that company is based in [email protected]:disqus says they have the flexibility to move the employees around…. but they followed that principle from the day of forming.
“Doing the right thing for the company” as you said is the Most important reason for asking an employee to leave. The company’s health and strength are a primordial thing that should never be compromised. Regarding how to handle the remaining employees, it’s very important to be very clear about it because they might think their turn is next unless they know why the other employee was asked to leave. And suppose the reason was non-performance in certain areas, that’s also an indirect message for the remaining employees that this will not be tolerated. Running a startup is not like running a club. It’s not a membership or fraternity thing. As a CEO, you have to be constantly pruning areas, replacing parts, or injecting new blood,- and that includes asking people to leave unfortunately. Sometimes, you might be doing the employee a favor because they Cdn take the experience you gave them and apply it somewhere else where the fit is better.
“Sometimes, you might be doing the employee a favor because they Cdn take the experience you gave them and apply it somewhere else where the fit is better.”Couldn’t agree more. This is how to look at it. .
I don’t know about the “club” thing, it appears that Facebook was a “frat house” of sorts for a long time:http://online.wsj.com/artic…
In good times, a lot of things can be overlooked.
In good times, a lot of things can be overlooked 🙂
A company is not a family, either — that metaphor is bound to create disappointment, because people do move on. (“Community” is better.)
Yeah, on the “family” idea, some founders mistakenly believe that every employee will work for them forever regardless of the conditions, opportunity to advance, relative success of the launch, etc.
Yes. And once you let someone in the go, some remaining staff may lose trust, depending on how they interpreted your meaning.
Good stuff Will, you’re building a fine automobile and some parts have to get swapped out. Fitting analogy.
There are cases where one fires “with cause” and those are situations where the employee did something that is a gross violation of company policies and or involved something close to a crime; these are few and far between.The vast majority of terminations involve more subjective issues; and the emphasis needs to be on the reality that they are being terminated for “subjective” reasons. Remember, when terminating for performance reasons you are terminating for “subjective” reasons.Thus, the way to look at these situations is just to acknowledge that you made a poor hiring decision and that the relationship is not good for the company nor is it in the best interests of the employee.Acknowledge your mistake in hiring and then think what you have to do to correct your mistake. If its a corporate culture issue then say that and let the employee know what companies you think offer the culture that this employee would thrive in. I have even gone as far to set up interviews with companies that were a better fit for an employee I was terminating.Nothing is more satisfying than to let someone go and then have them meet you a few years later and thank you for what you did. Its painful but you have to do the right thing.Its also critical that you communicate consistently to both the terminated employee and your current employee, otherwise the gossip will kill you! If when letting someone go whom everyone in the office is glad to see go, someone will call someone else and tell them what you said after they left….
Great advice Carl
Fred, I know my limitations, and working with people is definitely not one of them. 🙂 Considering that “people” are both your employees and your customers I think having “people” skills is critical.I used to review every single warning letter and performance evaluation that every manager/supervisor issued within our company and I would ask the manager/supervisor what they were doing to correct and or improve the employees behavior/performance.We did exit interviews and I would review them after they were completed and if a comment was made that I wanted more information on I would call up the ex employee and talk to them about it. I would also talk to the person who asked the questions to get more insight from them.HR should be about constant improvement of both the organization and the individuals within the organization because as the old saying goes, “…a bird in the hand is worth more than two in the bush….”
Re: HR; That’s IF (big IF) HR is given the authority to be that. I’m seeing lots of HR departments lose their power and effectiveness as the stewards of human capital. They are becoming management rubber stamps, benefits administrators and recruiting facilitators. In the old days, an employee used to be able to go to HR for advice and support and expect them to take their side. Not so much anymore.
I didn’t like the old days. There was nothing worse than some HR person that had no idea of what it takes to program for instance meddle.
A good HR person should consult with management first and not make overtures to the employees on their own. They should be a great listener first and foremost. At the end of the day, it’s the manager’s call, but the HR serves to inform them about the impact of the actions taken. Do you agree with that?
I don’t know. What I’ve found is that they can facilitate my cardinal sin which is talking about people behind their back.”Don’t tell Phil but he is a real asshole, etc, etc.” Don’t want to say that to me in person? Then keep it to yourself.You know the problem I have in general when people are talking about this stuff they don’t give examples. I’ll give you two:After I sold a company I was the COO and had a HR person tell me I couldn’t fire somebody for not indenting code correctly. He was always in her office. She thought this was pedantic and ridiculous. Well she was wrong. There was a specific reason indenting was important (for reading) and not doing it after being repeatedly told was not independent thought it was insubordination. She went a week later.When people say it is going to be best for everybody: I fired a guy that gave me the most honest answer to an interview question ever: Why do you really want this job coming out of school?: “I got my girlfriend pregnant”. He could crank out code but it had errors and in a production environment you just can’t do that. His wife came in the next day in tears and gave me a blanket she had hand knitted for my newborn. Think it was best for both of us that day? Hell no. He did go on and make a great internal resource at a big company where code did not have to go into production.I could go on and on. But this topic and “open books management” gets written a lot by people that haven’t done either.
Phillip,We had an onsite daycare and I had an employee who knew that she wasn’t cutting it and everytime I would call her in my office she would run over to the daycare and get her child and show up at my door with her child in her arms….You just can’t fire a single mother in front of her baby! :)After about a week I fired her anyway….and she is one of the ones I run into quite frequently nowadays and she is thankful that I let her go but gave into keeping her on payroll for six weeks until she found something else…Yep, that HR person would have to hit the door…
.She should have been in sales.Talk about a USP, eh?.
And you of all people know I took the big risk because if her pregnancy pushed my experience rate over 70% of premiums I would pay a big surcharge. Been there done that.
One of my biggest compliments as a young professional was when as a compensation analyst, the (what would now be) CIO accepted my pay recommendations for his team because he said I understood them. Before that there was palpable enmity between IT and HR and he opposed all recommendations with the accusation that they didn’t know anything about tech jobs. In retrospect, I should have jumped ship and accepted his offer to join his department. I feel like I am coming full circle developing relationships in the tech world.
Understand coordinating recruiting,facilitating revues, analyzing compensation, administering benefits = good.Enabling politics by allowing gossip = fired
With the personal caveat that I am a scarred large company HR exec…the words “subjective” and dismissing an employee screams lawsuit to me ;). But after you sit through more than a couple of wrongful dismissal lawsuits/depositions you cannot help but think in that manner. Always be sure, whether big or small company, that you can point to tangible performance related example so that the employee understands it is not simply about not fitting in. While you have a wonderfully compassionate approach, if you have pulled an employee out of another company and then end up separating from them you’ll want to be certain they do not only hear “I made a bad hire”. That is the classic “it is not you, it’s me line.”I truly enjoyed your comment below that HR should be about constant improvement ~ too often my colleagues are either correctly or incorrectly perceived as the “no police” who are simply reactive and only appear when they are cleaning off a former employees desk. People are the company. A valued HR pro understands how to also drive this home along with their performance.
I’d also add that it never hurts to review your action with your attorney, before you take it — even when the situation seems obvious, and you’re putting all of Fred’s suggestions into play.This doesn’t have to create an adversarial situation! It just gives you an opportunity to both do the right thing while you also protect the company.
can make a meaningful and worthy contribution to those goals within the culture of the company as it truly exists. http://FoxGetPositionWork.b…
Yeha, but it is way better than the nebulous reasons given.
John,I have been in the “Human Resources” business for over 25 years and at first I too let my actions be dictated by a fear of lawsuits. Then it dawned on me that people can sue you for anything they want, with or without merit, and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.First off, I meant “subjective” because I have seen enough performance evaluations to realize that unless you are measuring keystrokes or something you can count then its all subjective. The reality is if you limit yourself to just warnings and performance evaluations then you are always going to have the threat of “wrongful dismissal lawsuits” hanging over your head.Of course we only had a little over a 1,000 employees so we were by far not a “large company” but even when I had to spin off most of the HR duties to a real HR department I made sure that the employees knew that my door was always open and I made sure that the supervisors and managers knew that I was watching their behavior also.I do believe that most HR is now way too reactive and I always was proactive and quite direct and blunt about it. Yes, I am very compassionate in my approach but at the same time I will also say that my employees understood that I was there to support them and could be depended on to do the right thing but we went to court the employee would always lose because I never settled.
Carl, I appreciate a lot of what you are saying in these comments. You are always so predictably straightforward and humane.While I hightailed it out of corporate HR decades ago, I now understand some of the value of things done even though at the time I wanted to escape from it.I believe that even in the most relational and even smaller environments, it is important to have objective and measurable standards for performance. Something as simple as an agreement on what will be accomplished and some basic parameters around that. Employment is a form of contract whether it is called that or not and contracts have terms. The simplest termination is for not fulfilling the “contract.”Where things get messy and fuzzy is when the person is being terminated for something that doesn’t fit within the “contract”, like culture fit or attitude, or when the company doesn’t provide conducive conditions for performing the job. By nature, I prefer a less structured environment where we make things up as we go, but I have learned that there has to be some discipline and structure around employing people and objective terms have to be part of that.
Donna,When you have a manufacturing background you come to understand exactly how “subjective” performance evaluations are. On a plant floor you have precise measures of what is produced, what can be produced, and what is acceptable quality. You have engineers for every aspect of the operation. There is no culture, there is no fit, and personal traits are really irrelevant.On the other hand, or the “other side of the wall” you have administration and management jobs.Its a totally different world and it brings to idea of “subjectivity” front and center.Of course its easy to measure sales or plant production and reward management accordingly and thus you have your “measureable” results. But, then the issue of how those results were achieved comes into play; I have seen some plant managers hit great numbers but they did so with a turnover rate that was a nightmare or they did so by not performing preventative maintenance.So, they got their bonus and awesome review but the long term consequences were enormous.Performance is not only about what someone does but also how they do it. That’s where subjectivity comes into play.Then you have the issue of small companies, companies that are growing fast vs. large companies and or slow growing companies. In small and or fast growing companies you have a good chance that you hire a person for a job and within 6 months they could be doing something totally different than what they were interviewed for. THAT happens all the time!All of my experience is from small fast growing companies. I honestly have no idea how HR works in big slow growing companies and honestly that is experience that would put me to sleep! :)Now, what I did that worked for me was to take the focus off of “performance” and put it on “growth.” When I evaluated an employee I did not spend anymore than 10 minutes discussing their performance since the time of their last evaluation but rather I focused on discussing where they were today, where I thought the company was going, and where they need to head.I did not do annual evaluations but rather I did evaluations on an “as needed” basis. Then when I discussed where the employee needed to focus on to grow I laid out what skills they needed to develop what the requirements for the job were, and I told them what I would pay them to develop the skills and meet the requirements. Then I monitored them and once they achieved the skills and met the requirements they got the promised payraise. If it took them three weeks or three years, it didn’t matter they got the pay increase once they proved they were up to the task.That way of doing things solved a lot of problems and kept everyone focused on growing and developing. Its very unstructured and it requires an immense level of trust and communication but it worked for me. It also creates an environment where those that are not cutting it weed themselves out and thus limits the number of terminations you have to deal with.I think the biggest issue with HR is ensuring fairness across the board, and I cannot count the number of times I would ask myself if I was being fair. If you have a reputation for being honest, open, and fair, then that solves a lot of problems….Again, I am speaking from a perspective of someone who has spent a lifetime in small fast growing companies and as someone who never spent a whole lot of time in the office; I made it my business to be among the employees, as I always said, “HR goes to the employees not the other way around…..”
It is interesting to have your perspective here, John. You are a brave man.I do some large company searches to help support “my habit” (working with startups) and recently did a Director of Employee Relations search for a large technology company. It was a shock to my system to remember how much time, money and effort is spent in avoiding law suits — in this case the need was intensified due to a relationship with a government agency (one of the cooler ones). But I heard enough horror stories from candidates to realize that it wasn’t just vain precaution. On the flip side however I got to hear about the proactive aspect of ER and that’s pretty cool.
“Nothing is more satisfying than to let someone go and then have them meet you a few years later “Other than of course being let go and having either the manager or the company fail.On a serious note I don’t think rejection ever feels good even if it is for the better.
LE…No, termination is never a thing that feels good. If you have handled it right, what I call the pre termination, it can be seen as a relief. :)Now, I did say “…a few years later….”Yes, I can list out about 12 people who were good people with great skill sets but damn, they were just square pegs trying to fit in round holes and they were trying really hard but they just were not cut out for management or something or another.Rejection is demoralizing to say the least, especially when dealing with people who are really trying their damnedness to be successful…but when you see them move on and move up its the vindication of knowing that your hunch was right…
Firing a salesperson for not selling is not subjective. The reason for them not selling might not be their fault but the results are not subjective. It is what makes sales so tough: hardest to measure input, easiest to measure output
Sales people are always independent contractors in my books….thus they don’t count.
C’mon give them some love!
I’m with you, Phil. Salespeople and drummers get a bad rap but where would we be without them?
I think this applies equally well to long term contractors with which several startups work with (2-6 months terms). I recently had to break a 3 month commitment after 2 months when I wasn’t getting results I expected. Same approach: was done quickly, and communicated decisively.
Yeah. Um, Fred? I’m gonna have to ask you to, uh, go ahead and, um, leave the company. Yeah.
It’s your fault Larry, not his. Step up and acknowledge it. 😉
as always – great post Fred. It is never easy to be let go but the approach you mention makes the process more positive. It is important also for the company’s reputation that its ex-employees have a favourable experience since it spreads good vibe about them. I don’t know in reality how many employers adopt your approach but I hope that many of them do read this post
Takes 2 to Tango. I agree with the sentiment that both employer and employee are responsible when things don’t work out. One-sided relationships never thrive.
The advice about communicating your decision to the other remaining employees is spot on as I have been in position in the past where people were let go without any further communication from the company and that led to rumours and speculation. This ends up creating an unhealthy work environment which affects productivity
I took an HR class on how to fire someone, but it may as well have been called “How not to get sued by former employees” because that was the entire focus.The advice in that class was almost the opposite of the advice here. “Don’t be generous”: treat every employee exactly the same lest ye be charged with discrimination. Any act of generosity has the potential to come back and bite you. “Never admit fault”: the firing is never the company’s fault for any reason. “Under communicate as much as possible”: stick to a few stock reasons for their dismissal, and never tell them the real reasons (i.e. they weren’t very good at their job). Anything you say can and will be used against you, etc.Yuck, what a horrible world to live in. I like Fred’s advice much better.
And as is usual if you follow all of that advice it increases the chances you actually get sued.Like so many things if you fear something that puts that fear into you and everyone’s head and increases the likelihood the fear is realized.
Mistrust begets mistrust. Great advice.
Unfortunately though Luke, having sat through one too many wrongful dismissal lawsuits, this is what the world has come to. I think Fred’s reference above to consulting with HR-type counsel when available or practical gets to the heart of what the class was discussing. The ideal is somewhere between Fred’s style and approach, with a nod to the legal practicality of dismissing employees. You can thank the People’s Republic of California for a lot of the caution that has to be taken these days…I could share some interesting stories…Best part of Fred’s advice though : BE CLEAR.
My two comments would be you are not really asking them, that would imply they could say no, you are telling them. I think anything that sugar coats the facts really pisses people off, so when people say things like “this will be the best for both of us” people think fuck you this sucks for me right now you liar.Second I have a strict policy of not bad mouthing former employees even if they did suck. It is the first step to office gossip and politics.
Good point on using the word ask
Great post.One thought: If your internal communications are right, very little about this should come as a surprise to the employee let go. Subthought: If you find yourself communicating chiefly so a termination conversation won’t be a surprise, you aren’t really getting the point.
I don’t think using “asking” is appropiate. You are not “asking them”. You are “telling them”. The verb “ask” implies that they have the capacity to not comply. It works against your “not beating about the bush” principle.”Tell them to leave the company” is more sincere. Yes, it feels like “giving an order”, but that’s exactly what you are doing – its the last order you give to an employee, in fact. Sweeting it up with soft language can easily backfire and I would not recommend it.
You and Phil are in agreement on ask. Strong point.
Well at least you didn;t say “invite.”
A follow up post to this one that could be useful is what is best practice when downsizing either the whole company or a part of the company.Many VC backed startups go through this and handling the process and communication is so important, particularly if you want to try and keep your best talent from bolting.
You are killing me! 🙂
I second that motion.
That is a good one, Richard. How this is handled is critical. Not just in terms of the immediate reaction, but also the seed that it plants in someone’s thinking that eventually may lead to their leaving or checking out even before physically leaving.
one of our core values and mantras is “be human”in respect to the above, that means remembering that you are dealing with a person and all of their psychology, relationships etcin our first company, in the cases where we had to part ways with a couple people, we put this first and foremost in our minds and did everything we can to:1. make sure we gave them every chance to succeed that we could2. minimize the negative fallout by being as supportive to that person as possiblewhile it hurt at the time, i’m happy to say that in retrospect we all feel it was the right move for the company and the individuals involved
Being human is super important. Since my state has “at-will” employment, I’ve seen people fired as if they’re robots, w/ no explanation given for their dismissal. It’s left them baffled since they really wanted to know how they could have improved before it came to being let go.
yup. gotta give people the tools to succeedif they fail, then it’s time to make a move
I know you are a big sports person and I’m wondering if there are any things you learned from your various team participation and how coaches deal with under performance that could be of value in a company and employment situation.
i’ve had plenty of games where i sucked… the best coaches helped me realize what was wrong, but had strong faith in my ability to succeed and supported me in playing betterthe bad coaches just tell you that you suck and think that will motivate you
.A really great coach coaxes a performance out of you. He knows his players..
@domainregistry:disqus and @reecepacheco:disqus I had to memorialize this exchange in my Tumblr http://donnabrewingtonwhite…
.Great stuff. Being genuine. Knowing that the other person is hurting at this instant in time.These are all what is necessary to be kind and humane at a time that is not going to be comfortable unless YOU make it as comfortable as you can.The first responsibility of a gentleman is to make others comfortable in your presence.Remember something about work relationships. They only pertain to work. Work is not your whole life.You may get to know persons with whom you have lovely relationships but they simply are not the right fit into your ORGANIZATION. That does NOT mean they are not a good fit in your life.Life is bigger than just work. You are as big as all life. Be so..
@JLM:disqus The first responsibility of a gentleman is to make others comfortable in your presence.How much does it take to teach this one small (huge) lesson???
.Take a second and think about all the things that were said in regard to bringing a new employee on board. All of these comments and thoughts must co-exist with the notion that the time has now come to part company.Before you make any utterances about firing anyone ask yourself — what went wrong? Inform yourself first.The social and business contract between any employer and any employee is very simple.The employer — having assessed its needs and the capabilities of the employee — must provide and promises to provide an environment in which the employee can be productive.The employee — having researched the company and its vision/mission/values/strategy — represents that they can make a meaningful and worthy contribution to those goals within the culture of the company as it truly exists.A termination becomes necessary when either side of that social/business contract fails beyond the ability to mend the broken crockery.In some ways, it is a very measured and precise decision — it is not working. But know the reasons why it is not working for your own edification and to ensure that that mistake is not repeated.Don’t beat yourself up that a mistake has been made.Then simply inform the employee of your decision. Don’t get into a debate, just have a firm chat. Be polite. Let the other guy talk. Don’t back down.You are simply telling them that this is not the environment in which they can be productive.Always provide a severance payment and always get a general release. Monkey see/monkey do a good form with all of the pertinent statutes enumerated. This is very important.Be generous as it relates to severance (month per year service for shorter term employees) and vest what you can but offer to buy it back immediately.Have it all in writing.Communicate immediately to the company and never say a contentious word. You are communicating not proselytizing.Thank the employee and conduct a bit of a charm offensive. They are hurting. Don’t be afraid to be nice..
I think you would be surprised how untrue your statements are, for many organizations.i.e., people get hired poorly all the time.I have always struggled to feel empathy for someone who got hired in a way that THEY should have known was trouble….
.People’s expectations are sometimes quite unrealistic. But that is life.I have had 3 executive assistants in over 30 years in business. One worked for me for 20+ years.She believed that she needed to make more money because of her personal financial situation.I thought I had been very generous and had provided her with a very competitive salary, bonus and stock options.When I went to the paywindow once, I gave her a bonus that would have educated two kids at Harvard.She “needed” to make $20K more in her mind. An assessment that I thought was grossly over market and one I would have worked toward but not in one fell swoop.She quit and went to work with a guy who I knew and liked. She was hitting her target on salary but no benefits, inferior working conditions and no real long term prospects.I honestly think he had hired her because she had worked for me and he thought that was a pretty good imprimatur.Two months later, she is unhappy and can understand the differences. Turns out he resented paying her that much, was a yeller and was a pack rat. She was a neatness freak.I help her get a much better job with a modestly tech company.At the end, she realized she had been perfectly happy but that her unrealistic expectations had clouded her judgement. A sad tale really because I would have given her a bit more over time but not immediately..
Monkey see/monkey doYou have a bottomless supply of phrases. I love it.
Ahh @JLM, I come back to AVC after a hiatus/time off (10days off grid) and find the voice of reason in your words. What I dig about your comment is what others might call your cool or aplomb, but my read is how you remove the emotional from the situation and the emotional component is the hurt component. Just the facts Ma’am.Really, as I agree with your description, it’s that the fit doesn’t work. And henceforth, this means no job/work. Not bad employee, not bad boss, not bad company —just bad fit.As I tell my daughter, bad fit means fit is at fault, not the people are at fault. That really implies a sort of empowerment for each involved, no? Boss, and employee about to get sacked, – it just didn’t work, no hard feelings, no harm done, just thanks and move on. Next! And move on in nicest way available to provide (benefits, recc’s etc as available). Move on in style! Make the best of the passing of the torch for all involved.Yes, of course, taking someone’s livelihood/salary away stings until they find another. Framed as it was a bad fit/dynamic takes the emotion which Hurts/Stings out of it. That simple fact – allowing people to fail in a contained environment with no reproach, is what allows people to get up next morning and kick it right. Retain gusto, keep mojo up, keep moving to right place (sort of a buddhist idea).This kind of attitude makes me happy, and confident, and optimistic. Thanks.
.Hope you are well. Were you on your island?We all need to remember to be humble, kind and sensitive that our judgments may not be perfect on the way up because you never know who you might meet on the way down..
@JLM:disqus Indeed yes, I am on island. And will be this month with my darling daughter. We are very well, thanks. Summer has begun, and the magic of riding bikes to the beach, and the activities here are just what we needed as antidote to our year in the city. Heaven, actually. We are so lucky and pinch ourselves as a reminder.The humility you speak of is the humility I so enjoyed when I met you. I can’t imagine many who meet you online would recognize this so well, not having met you in person. It was such a pleasure to do so, and humility and curiosity seem to be your hallmarks.I so agree with you more than you with yourself – it is tantamount that people exhibit humility in their dealings since one is never privy to the future.I have spoken of this in the past days to Darling Daughter. How lucky we are, and how that luck is really perspective more than anything. Perspective to see what is right, true, needed, not needed, wanted and not had, fun or boring. The right frame of mind to lead one to seeing life as an adventure
I have asked a few people to leave companies over the years, it’s never easy.I have also been in situations in larger companies where I have been prevented by HR from removing people who were bringing the rest of the team down or holding them back. While the former is hard on me, the latter is hard on the whole team.
Again back to disqus. I want you to see it was me who liked this. Not theoretical but hard learned.
^ that like was me 🙂
Fred, this is great. Being fair and humane is the best way to go and also helps maintain the leadership’s respect and reputations.I would love if you could write a little about cost cutting in a startup. i.e. customer delays have happened, labor/salaries are 90% of the costs, how to approach cutting salaries without necessary employees leaving, to buy some more runway.
I will do that
We embrace employee churn as a part of our design.We are a software development shop of about 40 developers. We keep the reputation of being “elite”, only making offers to people who get top scores on our programming test. We hire everyone on a probationary basis to start, and make it very clear to all hires that they won’t make it past this phase, regardless of how they scored. We use “Paired Programming” which has many benefits including the scope for 1 dev to leave for any reason with another dev replacing him/her.When someone doesn’t pass probation, we put out an all-staff memo congratulating the person but saying how we’ll part ways. People leave with honor and generally get other interesting jobs.
I feel like 3 and 4 are so not normative anymore than I would be shocked if they happened to me.
Here is how I once “fired” an employee. He was a good employee for several years but then the quality of his work as well as his attitude changed and it got to the point where it just seemed not in the best interest of everyone to keep him around.He had a vacation coming up so I arranged for a friend that had a similar company to hire him during the two week vacation “to help him out”.The friend fully knew the situation with the employee (he had met him and we discussed the strategy) and agreed that in a “new broom sweeps clean” kind of way the particular employee might do a good job (at least for several years) in his company. And the position was typically hard to fill. At the end of the two weeks my friend offered him a job as had been planned. The employee checked with me and was quite surprised when I said “sure if that is what you want to do I’m ok with it good luck bla bla bla”. It was a perfect plan and even though the employee was confused it worked out for everyone.
Probably also a good idea to not telegraph to a person in advance that they are going to be let go.I think most perceptive people can see a change in behavior. A delta in either other employees behavior toward them (if they know) or in their bosses. I was able to predict almost 100% when an employee was quitting well in advance of their departure. Just by the lack of, or change in, eye contact with me or by some other observation of behavior. While it would be nice to think that this is not happening (the telegraphing) until you know you are firing a person (and as such do it quickly as Fred says) in truth it doesn’t work this way or can’t in many cases unless you are aware and take the appropriate steps to keep a poker face. There are all sorts of tell tale signs that show up in advance of an event.
I think Point 3 is the most important (and most overlooked). A clear leading sentence telling the person that they no longer have a position with the company is key. I have seen several instances where the employee didn’t “catch on” that they were being fired until a few minutes into the conversation…much more painful for everyone involved.Also important – it isn’t a debate. Providing reasons is fine, but be clear and concise. Giving a reason isn’t an opening to debate the point, so make it clear that the decision has been made.
Re #1:”When there’s a doubt, there’s no doubt.”- Max Levchin
How to deal with an employee suspected of defrauding the company?
“Do not beat around the bush.”Not discounting the importance of the other good advice here but I think this might be the most important.It’s not easy to be to-the-point and gracious all at once but this also comes with the territory.I was super nervous before asking someone to leave recently and this same advice served me and the outgoing employee well.
I wrote an article similar to this one, except going into detail about how to handle issues like letting someone go before their cliff date.http://www.businessinsider….It’s never easy letting go of people, but I agree with the points raised. Esp about being generous to someone who tried hard to make it work.One thing I also tried to do is help the recently “let go” person find another opportunity. It actually has worked in a few cases. A long as your honest with the new employer about why they were let go and what roles would be better suited for them.Jay
Lots of good advice in the post I agree with most of it. It is the right thing to do to be generous – even when that is hard for a startup. And I agree it’s best to use the most gentle language possible but to think that saying something like “fred we are asking you to leave the company” instead of “fred we are terminating your position” makes it less emotional is silly in my book.
I think it’s funny how an article link at the bottom of your entry is titled Lies that Losers Tell to which list I’d like to add “asking someone to leave the company”.You aren’t ASKING, it’s not a favor and there is no optional answer. You are putting some marketing spin on the fact that you are forcibly kicking someone out the door. If it’s easier for you rationalize then go ahead but there isn’t any “asking” going on.
A very common and valid critique in this thread
In my industry I think it is best to be as humane as possible since you never know if you will encounter the person you let go professionally. I have overhead many conversations which my former employer was trying to bid on a project and one of the decision makers were former staff, that either quit or got let go from my former employer. Talk about sticky situations!
Can’t handle critical comments? Maybe you shouldn’t have a public blog.
I can and do
Fred you seem like a world class ass hole. You use your money to control people. Then you twitter about bitch slapping them. We the Public, Fire you!
Agreed. Strangely enough, I just had to do it yesterday. I think it is always the CEO’s fault because would the employee be the worst in the sorld, she still should not have hired him in the first place. My typical plan is: I start with the decision and the practical things attached (money, day of departure…), then I state the positive things about his profile and I conclude by the show stoppers (always backed with facts). Then I let the employee speak but never let it be a conversation.
Hi Fred,I tactically read your blog for excellent food for thought. I want to share a story with you, one that marked a bad experience at one of your current portfolio companies. I’m still under an NDA, so I’m not going to share the name or specific details. The day I started working there, was the day 2 other people started as well. An intern, “Tim”, and a regular employee, “Jim”.Fast forward 2 months, the “Tim” stopped showing up in the office. Most people didn’t have a clue whether he quit or whether he was “asked to leave”. Company was around 25 people at the time. Most employees (I assume every employee other than the first 3-5), didn’t bother asking why, and went on.Another two months later, company has its regular team-wide meeting. During lunch break, boss/founder has a 1-1 meeting with “Jim”. The rest of the team comes back from lunch, and “Jim” isn’t there. Founder/boss says, “I have an important announcement to make”. At the same moment the secretary walks in with the “ask to leave the company” papers. Founder/boss signs them and says, “Jim is leaving us”. I’m angry but I don’t talk. “He wasn’t a good fit”. Just that. No one talked, it was silent, it was a shit moment. Company moves on, no one asks why “Jim” left. One employee, once wondered, if his laptop was still available.
I meet “Jim” after 3 months for a beer. Until then I thought he quit because he didn’t like working there. So what happened?When founder/boss asked for the meeting he thought he’d get a raise. He was a damn good programmer actually. Founder/boss is silent, red, can’t talk, says “I’ve never done this before”.”Jim” says “Am I fired?”, “Yes”. “Can I keep the laptop?”. “Yes”.And that was the dialogue. “Jim” never learned why he left. He was frustrated. The rest of the employees were puzzled, but no one dared talk about it. It was one of the sittiest moments at my short time there.Good thing is, “Jim” went on to work at his previous employer, with more money and 4-day workweek. And he kept the laptop.Don’t know if that story has any moral, but personally for me, boss/founder/company behaved like complete fucking assholes in that particular case.Anyway, it doesn’t matter because they’re huge now.
Well that is unfortunate. I hope the CEO in question reads this.
“Asking someone to leave the company is never easy. I don’t know anyone who enjoys doing it. “I can say only one name – Ary Gold
Great post. A third constituency which may need to be addressed (depending on the role of the departing employee) is the external community – clients, partners, vendors, etc. Quick communication to these groups is important as well. Any thoughts/tips on reaching out to these groups?
I asked that too. Good question. The person was representing the company and so these are “company relationships” that need to be tended to, and yet the external party may feel some loyalty to the departing employee. The right communication and timing of that could possibly save a business relationship.
great post fred. wish i’d had this “back when.” only thing i would add to “knowing that you are doing the right thing for the company, the remaining team” is that it’s likely also the best thing for the departing employee, whether they feel that way at the time, or, ever. a situation that is not working out is merely a blocker to their potential future contributions.
I’m a few days late to the party, but this was a great post, @fredwilson:disqus . No one ever wants to be in this situation, but this is great advice for the inevitable time when you find yourself there.
Nice post about MBA i like it.
I always think that it is hard to fire someone. Emotions can really be hurtful, and really turns the tables on you so-to-speak. It kinda makes you feel bad to fire someone, and makes you look like the bad guy.
Lockdown – that’s a whole ‘nother post.
Great point about passwords