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Sales Eye - You're fired! (May 17th, 2004)

2013-07-10
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You'e fired!

17th May 2004

 

American billionaire and real estate tycoon Donald Trump has made a name for himself lately through the unsubtle use of the phrase every employee loathes - 'You're Fired.'

 

Firing is a critical task of any manager. And sadly, most managers and many companies are terrible at it. Improper firing practices and procedures demotivate the current staff, allow poor performers to hang on too long, and even create enemies. You owe it to yourself and your staff to fire people who don't belong in your organization.

 

Have you ever fired anyone? Can you recall an incident when you have regretted firing someone too soon? Of course not. Of the dozens (or perhaps hundreds) of people we have fired over the years, the only regret is that we waited too long. We can't think of a single example when we regretted our decision. The moral of the story is, fire soon and fire often.

 

'Neutron' Jack Welsh of GE fame takes the concept of firing to the limit. He advocates systematically reducing the bottom 10 percent performers of every department automatically. Yes, every GE manager was expected to rank his employees and fire the bottom performers - regardless of whether there was a problem or not. His thought was that the only way you can improve the organization is by constantly improving the caliber of your staff. And that means culling the weakest.

 

Regardless of your own philosophy, firing is a reality of business. You must do it. So here are some guidelines on what to look out for.

 

Start by hiring right

If you have a weak stomach and really want to avoid this topic, then we've got a simple solution - hire right. If you hire right, you'll find yourself in the firing seat a lot less often.

 

When you fire someone, it generally means that you've hired the wrong person. So the root cause of firing is poor hiring practices. The reasons for firing someone are many, but can be generalized into three main categories: job performance, attitude, and cultural 'fit' within the company. Think about the people you have fired in the past, and what the reasons were for their being fired. Perhaps your hiring process is weak in testing for one of these three attributes. Improving the hiring process may require the assistance of a professional, or you may simply need to work on the process yourself. Are your interviews identifying the right strengths and weaknesses? Are you doing psychological testing of the candidates? Are you checking references? If you want to fire less, hire better.

 

Monitor performance

With new employees, you must monitor their activities and their performance from day one. He's late to work in the first week? Pull him aside and tell him, "At our company we come to work on time." His sales results are poor? Make sure he understands his targets and that all performance expectations are crystal clear.

 

The goal is to fix the problem - not to prepare for firing. We have had quite a large number of situations where we were considering firing someone, and decided to invest a little more time into their development. A clear requirement for 'salvaging' someone is setting straight what the key performance indicators are, and that failing to achieve them will result in dismissal.

 

Fire sooner than later

When the time has come to fire someone, just do it. Don't drag the process out with warning after warning. Yes, make sure you have a process in place that gives the employee a fair chance, but when that's expired, just make the decision and move on.

 

We have been rather surprised over the years how our other employees are much tougher than management. In a recent example, we fired Paweł, an international sales rep, after a period of very weak performance. He had been with the company for several years in different positions, but in his last position he failed miserably. But we allowed him to stay on for almost a year. When we finally fired him, employees all over the company came out of the woodwork sharing their thoughts. "We thought you would never fire that guy! Didn't you realize how lazy he was?"

 

When it's time to fire, you know it in your gut. Don't hesitate. And if there is any sign of dishonesty, deception, or you find out the person lied on their CV or about their skills, then end things immediately. You don't have the time or the room for cheats and liars.

 

Always be fair

Getting fired is a traumatic experience. At Lynka, we believe in always firing someone with dignity. The person is about to join the ranks of the unemployed - so be gentle. We always stay calm, offer to help in any way we can, and do all we can to preserve the person's dignity. You should be candid and tell the person the reasons for the decision - without completely crushing the person. Firing with dignity ensures that you don't create enemies as well. And it goes without saying that you must honor your contract with employees. Don't cheat people when you fire them - not only is it wrong, but the other employees will find out about it and start to question the ethics of their employer.

 

Diagnosis - what went wrong?

After you've fired someone, you should diagnose the causes of the problem. Are your hiring practices wrong? Did you check references? Was the person trained properly? Were they managed closely enough? An exit interview provides useful insights and often answers those questions. Do yourself a favor and always diagnose after a failed hiring.

 

Firing isn't fun. But neither is bankruptcy. If you don't manage the quality of your staff, your competitors will oh-so-gladly show you the door to liquidation.

 

Fire soon. Fire often. Always be fair. And no regrets.

 

Next Week: I quit! Now, it's the employee's turn! How to leave your employer without ruining your chances for a recommendation and a nice going-away party. Stiffing your employer by walking out on your work agreement is a big 'no-no.'

 

 

From Warsaw Business Journal by John Lynch, Matt Lynch -"The Sales Brothers"