On the Apprentice Donald Trump always says with such gusto, "You’re fired!"  The board room discussion usually focuses on what went wrong and the faults of the candidate.

But is it more important to organizational success to know how to fire or how not to fire?  If a problem arises with an employee do you always focus on what went wrong?  Or instead, do you focus on how changing behaviors and performance could have a positive impact on the organization and the employee?

Inc.com has a series of slides on the Dos and Don’t of firing and an article with tips on how to fire employees. Chris Musselwhite, a consultant and columnist with Inc. says:

Despite the discomforts, dismissing an employee can be one of the most important tasks of leadership you’ll face. It can be an opportunity to strengthen or build a culture of respect, accountability and trust–especially in an entrepreneurial environment–or it can foster a culture of fear and secrecy at all levels. Other employees are watching, and how you deal with the problem will set standards or norms in the organization. You are shaping your organization’s culture whether you take action or ignore the problem. The real question is, what do you want your organization’s norms related to competent performance to be?   

Musselwhite cites the three most common mistakes leaders make with a potential firing:

  • To treat it as a legalistic, mechanical problem. If you only are worried about having filed the right paperwork and getting through it without having to call the security guards, you’ve probably been thinking of it as a chance to get rid of a thorn in your side, instead of thinking about the best way to solve the problem for everyone’s benefit.
  • To wait until a crisis occurs before taking action. If you can address the problem early, before frustration and resentment are high, the chances for success are exponentially greater.
  • To make decisions based on emotions rather than facts. We can’t fire people based on personality clashes or annoying behaviors. It’s got to be about the impact on the organization, accountability and getting the job done. When the decision is fact-based, you remove many of the emotional stressors that arise when sitting down to consider your options.

I agree with Musselwhite that dismissal should be the last step in a postive process for your organization, leader or employee.  Be sure to set out clear performance expectations for employees and provide them with training, mentoring and other opportunities for success.  If it doesn’t work after attempting this approach you are more likely to avoid litigation if you end up firing the employee.

Thanks to Mike Colwell of the Des Moines Partnership’s new business accelerator for pointing out the articles.