I tell my children to work hard and never, ever give up. I teach them to be grateful, to be full of wonder, to expect good things to happen, and to search for literal and figurative treasure on every beach, in every room, and in every person. But someday, when the treasure hunt is over, I'll also teach them how to fire people. This is because after working with the most inventive people in the world for over three decades, I notice that a key tool in their leadership toolbox is knowing how to handle the pink slip.
Recently, a serial entrepreneur told me "I wanted a happy culture. So I fired all the unhappy people." With this in mind, here's my advice on when and why to fire people. When you are confronted with any of the following three people--and you have found it impossible to change their ways--show them the door.
Fire the Victims
"Can you believe what they want us to do now? And, of course, we have no time to do it. I don't get paid enough for this. My boss is clueless ... "
Victims are people who are always looking for a problem to be persecuted by instead of a challenge to overcome. We all can play the role of victim occasionally, but for some, it has become a way of life. These people seem to feel mistreated by people, processes, and inanimate objects with equal ease--they almost seem to get their energy from playing the role of the victim. They are often angry, annoyed, and almost always complaining. Just when you think everything is humming along perfectly, they find something--anything--to complain about.
Here's the thing--victims aren't looking for opportunity. They are looking for problems. Victims can't innovate because they do not find power in possibility. So if you want to have an innovative, strategic team, it simply can't include victims. Fire the victim.
Fire the Nonbelievers
"Why should we work so hard on this? Even if we come up with a good idea, the boss will probably kill it. I've seen this a hundred times before ... "
I love the Henry Ford quote: "If you think you can or think you cannot, you are correct." From my experience, the link between believing and succeeding is incredibly powerful and real. Great leaders understand this. They are intentional when it comes to finding and promoting believers within their organizations. They also understand the cancerous effect that nonbelievers have on a team and will cut them out of the organization quickly and without regret.
If you are a leader who says your mission is to change the world, but you have a staff that houses nonbelievers, you are paying lip service to your mission, you are in denial, or you are a lousy leader. Which is it? You deserve the staff you get. Fire the nonbelievers.
Fire the Know-It-Alls
"You people obviously don't understand the business we are in. The regulations will not allow an idea like this and our customers won't buy it. Don't even get me started on our IT infrastructure's inability to support it ... "
The best innovators are learners, not knowers. The same can be said about innovative cultures; they are learning cultures. The leaders who have built these cultures, either through intuition or experience, know that to be open to discovery, they must be eager to seek out things they don't understand and jump right into the deep end of the pool. Innovators and entrepreneurs are willing to fail fearlessly and quickly, and then learn and share their lessons with their teams. When we behave this way, we empower others around us to follow suit, and presto, you have a "wonder-full" culture.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with asking questions that challenge a hypothesis, a strategy, or an idea. But know-it-alls typically don't ask questions. Instead, they give lectures.
It's easy to understand why know-it-alls rise in organizations. In school, it is the one who knows the most that gets the best grades, goes to the best college, and earns the best salary. On the job, the person who can figure things out the quickest is often celebrated. And, unfortunately, it is often the smartest, most seasoned employee who eventually becomes an expert in using their knowledge to explain why things are impossible rather than possible.
The next time your victim complains, your nonbeliever doubts, or your know-it-all lectures, I encourage you to be the creator; start by creating a new career for them.