It's one of the worst parts about being a leader. Asking someone to leave your company is a part of leadership that many business owners don't understand how to execute. It is also something most of us try to avoid doing as much as possible. But there is a right way to go through with it and, as head of an organization, it's your job to know when it's time to do so.
But before you let another team member go, learn from missteps others have made. Here are three of the worst mistakes you can make when firing an employee.
1. Waiting too long to pull the plug
As a leader, you want to give your employees the ability to grow. Because of this, your natural instinct will be to quickly forgive team members when mistakes are made. You'll always want to continue giving them more chances to succeed--or to hold yourself accountable.
While coaching is essential, there are times when people won't fit in your company culture and coaching won't help. You'll know when this happens. There are constant arguments and a lack of motivation. Over time you'll realize that the person isn't going to fulfill his or her full potential in your company. Once you start seeing traces of this, it's time to ask that person to leave.
I've shadowed countless startup CEOs and one common thread is that they all regret firing employees too late. Not one has told me about regret for letting someone go too early.
Your job is to decide whether the person you hired is making mistakes that you can fix or if he or she is damaging the culture of your company. If it's the latter, be swift and part ways. Keeping employees who don't fit with your mission will not only hurt your business but also hurt them in the long run as well.
2. Not Giving Performance Reviews
When your employees make mistakes, sometimes there's so much on your plate that you shortcut the time to coach them. This is a big problem, because when all the mistakes start piling up, it becomes too much to fix. Small mistakes from team members early on are OK as long as you are making sure they are aware of the error. When you let them know where they are messing up, it gives them a fair chance to fix their performance.
The other problem with not providing feedback is that when teammates are asked to leave, it takes them by surprise. When asked why they were let go, you list the mistakes that they made. The immediate question they will ask you is why you never brought this up sooner. Maybe if you had brought the issue to them when it occurred, they would have had time to fix it. Think of it as a crack in your windshield: The longer you go without addressing it, the worse it will get. Instead, be up front when you're unhappy with a team member's performance. If that person is unable to improve, you and the employee will both understand exactly why a firing needs to occur.
3. Taking It Personally
Letting someone go in a startup is different from the way it is in the corporate world. When you fire an employee during the early stages of a company, that person usually will have developed more of a personal friendship with you. You helped build the foundation together. The worker made huge sacrifices and took a lot of risk to join your venture and--in most cases--even took a sharp pay cut.
After all the sacrifices the employee has made, he or she will probably take the firing personally. When you're in this situation, you'll have to risk the fact that you're not just losing a team member but also a friend. It's difficult not to dwell on how unfortunate the situation is, but in the end you have to come to grips with your decision.
It's impossible to do something worthwhile and be liked by everyone. Mad competitors, upset customers, and angry previous employees are all a part of being a leader. They aren't the easiest aspects to deal with, but they present the challenges we need to overcome to become better leaders.