I had an insomnia-inducing feeling of dread the first time I ever had to fire someone.
I was up the whole night. I knew I had to do it, and I knew it needed to be done. That didn't help me fall asleep in the least.
My heart was beating a million beats a minute when it came time to let Richard (not his real name) go. I had inherited Richard from my predecessor, and there was no question I was doing the right thing for the company.
Richard was really struggling, and he couldn't get anything done. Worse yet, he was in a customer-facing role, and he was in no way a good representative of the company. Letting Richard go was the right thing to do, but I dreaded doing it.
Richard had some interpersonal issues. In fact, his interpersonal skills were horrible. But Richard is a human being. He has a wife. He has kids. He has a mortgage to pay. And I was about to turn his world upside down.
Firing Richard sucked.
I remember meeting him in our Boston office. I sat down, shakily, and I looked at Richard and said, "We're letting you go."
Richard got very close to me. He was maybe one foot away from me. He looked at me and asked, "Why?"
Richard was so close to me that I could smell his breath. "I didn't think enough progress was being made in your region. So we're going to go in a different direction." I was shaking and I'm sure my voice was quivering to a degree.
I continued, "Here's your severance package and your final check. I wish you the best of luck."
Richard looked over the paperwork I gave him. He picked it up, gathered his things and he left the office.
Terminating Richard felt like it took hours, but it really took a few minutes. I felt relieved and horrible at the same time. I was relieved that letting Richard go was over. I felt horrible because I knew his world had been turned upside down.
I've fired many people since that first time, and I still feel horrible each and every time. I hope I can't sleep and that I feel dread every time I fire someone, and I hope you feel dread and can't sleep every time you fire someone, too.
Why? When you fire someone, you are drastically changing a life.
No matter what you think of the person you are letting go, no matter how bad a job you feel this person has done, you are terminating the employment of a human being with feelings, a career, friends, financial issues, and a family. These are all affected when you fire someone. That's why you should dread firing anyone.
I know. I've been fired. You question everything about yourself when you've been fired. You question your intelligence, your ability, and your self-worth. It doesn't matter how accomplished you are or how much money you have. Being fired rocks your world like nothing else.
None of that should ever stop you from firing the person.
For more on firing someone, read: