Letting A Team Member Go

I talk a lot about the importance of having a good team working with you. And with good reason. While there are plenty of business ventures you can undertake completely by yourself, most will require you to work with others in one form or another, and having a team as a part of your business (or businesses) is a smart move for a huge number of reasons. But what do you do when a team member isn’t pulling their weight? Slacking off, not completing tasks, and in general behaving in a way that is detrimental to the success of your business? You’ve told them time and again, warned them you’re losing your patience, and they still won’t stop dragging their feet? Or worse, you made a miscalculation somewhere along the way, scaled up the size of your team too quickly, and your income can’t support your business?

Well then you’re faced with making a very tough (or in the first scenario, potentially very easy) decision. You may find yourself having to do what many business owners, managers, human resource workers, and anyone else high enough up the ladder to carry this particular responsibility will call the worst part of their job: having to fire someone.

It’s not an easy task you face, and there is a right and wrong way to go about it. A lot of people think that letting someone go is just a matter of saying “you’re fired, get out” and calling it a day. While you certainly could do exactly that, I don’t advise it, as you could end up doing long term damage to your business in the process.

I’ve told you all before about how important it is to carry yourself with professionalism. That doesn’t go out the window just because you have to fire a slacker. Think about this. In this specific scenario, you’re probably going to have to find a replacement. One problem: the person you just unceremoniously (and very rudely) canned told all their contacts in their particular field not to do business with you. And then they told their contacts. And so on, and so forth. By acting rashly, you’ve done potentially permanent damage to your reputation. This will make your search for a replacement that much harder, which means your team will be operating at less than full strength. Someone’s going to have to pick up the slack, which you can beat the rest of your team will probably be less than thrilled about. It could also cost you money. What if that (now former) team member had clients they were courting? Or some of your existing clients came in through them? Do you really think they’re going to give you a dime now? Unless you’ve made yourself indispensable, probably not. Which means you’ve managed to shrink your PIE.

So how do you avoid that? Simple. Don’t be a **** (I’ll let you fill in your favourite four letter word there). This is somebody’s livelihood you’re messing around with. Someone’s life. Yes, they were messing around with yours by not doing their job, but perhaps you’ve heard the expression “two wrongs don’t make a right”? It’s very easy, especially when you’re running your own business, to take someone not doing their job as a personal affront. To get angry. Angry people are prone to saying and doing some pretty stupid things. Avoid that. Period.

When faced with having to let someone go, for any reason,  it’s important to remain calm, rational, and polite. Be professional. Explain exactly why they’re being let go (though in the first scenario you should have already discussed this with them multiple times before making the decision to fire them, but explain it again anyway). No yelling. No name calling. Polite and diplomatic. Give them a chance to give their side. Who knows, there might actually be a very good reason why they can’t get it in gear, and for one reason or another, they didn’t feel comfortable telling you until, well, they had no other choice. There might be an easy solution here that will save you from having to let anyone go at all. You’ll never know if you don’t sit down and talk it out with the person. And by giving them the chance to air their side, you’re helping to minimize any negative feelings they’ll have towards you. Oh there will almost certainly be some anyway, but there’s a difference between “I’m a little upset with you for firing me” and “I’m going to mount your head on a pike on my front lawn.” Calm professionalism, conversation, and at the end, a polite word, a handshake, and otherwise just not being a complete tool about it, will 99 times out of a hundred prevent any backlash from having to tell someone they don’t have a job anymore.

I focused a lot on that specific example, but there’s the other scenario I mentioned as well. Having to let someone go over something that’s, well, your fault. No blame shifting here. Own up to your mistake. Explain exactly why you’re being forced to let this person go. Try to soften the blow as much as possible here. This person did nothing wrong. Apologize. A lot. Let them know that when things improve, if they’re still available, you’ll call them back immediately (and follow through on it). Make them feel that they’re a valued member of your team (because they were), and that you want them to rejoin you (because you should) as soon as humanly possible.

Those are two fairly specific (and drastic) examples, but the core idea of how to go about letting someone go is there. Be polite. Courteous. Professional. The same way you act in every other aspect of your business. This is no different, regardless of how you may or may not personally feel. Above all never forget, that’s another human being there. Someone whose path to PIE you may be cutting short. How would you feel if someone did the same to you? Probably not great.

If nothing else, remember. People talk, word spreads, and an angry ex-employee can do a lot of harm to a small business on its way up. So do your best to avoid creating any. I’m sure somewhere along the way you’ll slip up, or someone will wind up getting completely ticked no matter what you say or do, but as long as you try your best, then chances are that in performing one of the most difficult acts that exist in business, your reputation, your business, and your own Personal Independent Earnings will remain intact.

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