5 questions to ask before firing an employee

By Eric Chester

President of Reviving Work Ethic Inc.

Firing an employee is a task that no manager enjoys, but one that often seems inevitable.

Yet, it's a proven fact that hiring a replacement employee will cost a great deal more than retaining the one you have, if your existing employee can be deemed salvageable. That's why it's imperative to have a checklist of questions to ask yourself prior to pulling the trigger on your expensive turnover revolver.


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Here are five introspective considerations to include on your checklist:

1. Were my expectations set too high for this employee? Before you hired the person you are now ready to fire, you had an expectation in mind. You may have even thought you were hiring a clone of yourself. Time out. Perhaps you set the bar so high that no one could clear it, and now you're acting out of frustration. You don't have to lower the bar; perhaps you just need to revisit your initial expectations. Realize that the replacement employee is not going to be you, either.

2. Has this employee failed due to a lack of skill or a lack of will? Perhaps this employee could be retained if they improved their skills or added some new ones. If all they need is some training or coaching, a little TLC in that direction might prove to be a great investment. However, if the problem is more attitude than aptitude, cutting ties is likely your best move. Resources spent training a demotivated, disengaged employee is akin to pouring chocolate sauce over a meatball sundae.

3. Have I done everything I can to set them up for success? One of the most common reasons employees fail is because they don't have the tools they need to succeed. Ask yourself if the employee you're about to fire has been given:

  • The right tools
  • The prerequisite training, and
  • A mentor to coach them.

If you haven't set them up for success, you've set them up to fail. (And their replacement is not going to fare much better).

4. Could they succeed in another position? Imagine if Peyton Manning were asked to play defensive tackle, or if Mick Jagger was asked to sing opera. They'd be in the right line of work, but they'd be out of position. Maybe that lousy fry cook would make an exceptional cashier. Or perhaps that drive-thru operator who's never getting the order right has an incredible talent for keeping your lobby and your parking lot spotlessly clean. Before you fire someone, ask yourself if you've placed them in the role that best utilizes their talents and abilities.

5. Do I feel threatened by this employee? No, not physically threatened; worse. They threaten your security as a leader. Maybe they're a little too smart, too talented, or too influential and you're afraid other employees will follow them and not you. This may be exactly who you need on your team to bring out the best in them ...and you. Rather than see your maverick as opposition, give them a vision and some rope and let them use their strengths to yield stellar results.

With talent acquisition and retention being more pivotal to business success than ever before, what questions are you asking yourself before terminating that worker who just isn't working out?

Chester is an employee engagement expert who has worked with a number of restaurant brands, including McDonald's, Firehouse Subs, Dairy Queen, Arby's, Burger King, Domino's, Pizza Hut, Little Caesars, Papa Murphy's and more. He is also the author of five leadership books and president of Lakewood, Colo.-based Reviving Work Ethic Inc., a speaking and consulting firm. He can be contacted at ateric@revivingworkethic.com.

Photo provided by Wikimedia.

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