Today’s Lesson: You can throw a drowning man a life preserver but it is up to him to take it.
When deciding whether to let a team member go, I think good leaders consider three important questions:
1. What would saving the team member look like? In other words, if we are able to correct the behavior leading to this path (assuming it is not something egregious like stealing) will this person again be valuable to the team’s culture, efforts, and goals?
2. Have I/we provided all the tools this person needs to be successful? In other words, has the team member been provided every opportunity and resource to save himself?
3. Will being let go come as a surprise to them? In other words, do they know how close they are to being let go? This is the big one. A termination of employment should never come as a surprise to the person whose employment is in question. If a team member is on the verge of being fired and they do not know their job is on the line, then we have failed as leaders.
We failed morally, because we did not give the person a chance to fix the problem and grow (which we would want for ourselves). We failed ethically because we are taking away someone’s livelihood and ability to care for their family with no chance to redeem themselves first. We failed as professionals because it is more expensive for a company to re-train than it is to retain.
Finally, it sends a signal to remaining team members that they can not trust you. After all, you might let people go at any time without warning. Who would want to work for a boss like that?
Firing someone is never easy and never should be. If you have done a good job answering those three questions, though, you can at least go to bed knowing you did all you could.
As a leader, part of your job is to give your struggling team members enough rope to pull themselves up. It is up to them if they choose instead to tie it into a noose and hang themselves. Just be sure they understand what happens when people succeed in hanging themselves at your organization.