How to Fire Someone
By Pepper de Callier

I have received several letters from readers asking for my thoughts on how to do one of the most difficult things any manger has to do in the course of his or her duty: fire somebody. 

Let me begin by saying that firing someone, except in the most egregious situations such as theft, fraud, or gravely serious misconduct of some sort, should be looked at as a process not a one-time event.

One point to keep in mind is that there may be any number of things causing the behavior in the employee that is creating the performance issue which is putting their job in jeopardy—depression, family trouble, lack of ability, not understanding what is expected of them—there are as many reasons for behavior as there are people. 

To approach this process requires sensitivity, objectivity, firmness and a sense of humanity.  Legal issues aside, abrupt, uncaring terminations of an employee, for no good reason, give the company and the person who did it a bad name in the marketplace and no one of any quality will want to work for that particular company or individual.

There are many different effective and acceptable approaches to the process of firing someone, but there are some core things to consider.

Here are some tips from Dr. Robert Nelson, who is an employee relations expert based in San Diego, California, that I think will help you develop your own approach.

First, give them an indication that something is wrong.  In other words, arrange for a meeting with the person and tell them that there their performance has not been up to expectations and, to give them the benefit of the doubt, use this opportunity to clarify what exactly is expected of them.  Then, ask them to come back to you if there is any question they may have regarding expectations.  This way you are encouraging them to communicate with you.

Be clear when expectations are not being met.  It’s easier to deal with a problem if you address it before things get out of hand.  Call the person in for a meeting and let them know that they are not meeting expectations and, if their performance does not improve, they could be in jeopardy of losing their job.

Exhaust all alternatives to firing the person.  For example, you could ask them to take day off, with pay, think about whether they really want to work here or not and if they are willing to make the commitment to improve.  If they come back and say yes, they want to stay, you might enroll them in a seminar or course to help improve whatever the deficit is.  Or, you could ask them to come in for a meeting and say something like, “You have a performance review coming up in a few months and I want you to know that if you don’t improve you won’t be receiving any increase in salary.  I wanted you to know this well in advance so you would have the time to improve and so that it would not come as a surprise at your performance review.”  What you are doing here is sending a strong message to the employee about their performance which may cause them to re-commit themselves to the job or begin looking for a new job elsewhere.

Act quickly if things just aren’t going to work out.  Keeping someone around that is not working out is bad for everybody, themselves included.  Sometimes the best thing for the morale of the entire team is to remove the person who is not performing.  But, even at this time you must be considerate of the person’s feelings and approach the termination with the knowledge that you have given them every chance to change their behavior.  You could say something like, “I was hoping things would work out but they haven’t and we’re going to have to let you go.”

One area that these suggestions don’t address is a downsizing, or layoff, when the termination doesn’t necessarily come as a result of unmet expectations.  My recommendation in this situation is to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and be sensitive to the fact that they have obligations in life, too, which will make being unemployed a real hardship not only for them, but for others, too.  The best thing to do for someone like this is to help them in some way, whether it’s making a call to introduce them to someone at a new employer or getting them into outplacement—a little sensitivity goes a long way.  And, you never know, you just might be on the other side of the desk one day and you’ll appreciate being treated in a humane way.

Good luck on your way up!

About the Author: Pepper de Callier is one of the most respected senior executive coaches and authorities on leadership in Europe. Learn more about him at

*These are reprints from Pepper de Callier‘s newspaper column in Hospodarske noviny.  

Common Sense Wisdom: Thoughts to Live By

From beginning September 3rd, 2012, you will be able to start your week with an insight, or new perspective that will help you move closer to your goals as a professional and a personally fulfilling life as one of today’s most respected coaches, authors and leadership authorities, Pepper de Callier, shares his thoughts with you in a short inspirational video of two to four minutes every Monday morning on YouTube in a series titled Common Sense Wisdom: Thoughts to Live By

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