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View Staff Firing


Thoughts from Bob Biehl (Life Church) on “Firing” (from “30 Days to Confident Leadership”)

“I’ve been fired.”  What terrifying words!  And almost equally as terrifying is the statement, “I think we’re going to have to fire so-and-so.”  For most executives, having to fire a staff member is the single most difficult aspect of their leadership.

How can it be done in the right way?  I believe the essence of doing it right is in maintaining this perspective.  When you appropriately fire a person from a position in which they are failing, you are actually releasing them from that failure—and freeing them to seek a position in which they can find success.  With a proper release, it’s even possible to instill in that person the excitement that comes from anticipating a new venture.
In a sense, you are telling the person, “I’ve got good news: I’m going to release you from this failure situation and activate the process of find you a new and more fulfilling position.”

I’ve been a part of ‘releasing’ about a hundred executives, and I can testify that it is never easy.  But I’m convinced from experience that the right perspective is to see it as that personal release from failure and to a more fulfilling position.

The following questions can help you maintain that needed viewpoint:

1.  Does this person clearly understand the role, goals, responsibilities and standards for their position?
  a.  If the person doesn’t have this clear understanding, this may be your failure as a point leader.  Nonetheless, you still need to release them if they aren’t performing up to minimum standards. 
    i.  One option: to clearly spell out the standards and give them the option of trying to meet these clear benchmarks in the next 1-3 months.  If they agree, then set the time for the evaluation and let them know that lack of performance will lead to them being released or reassigned.
  b.  If you have clear, specific standards for the job, it makes releasing someone ten times easier.

2.  Why is the person not performing adequately?
  a.  Is it because of a lack of:
    i.  Training
    ii.  Motivation
    iii.  Experience
    iv.  Ability
    v.  Clear assignment
    vi.  Personal or relational skills

Explore all of these possibilities before making your conclusion.

3.  What would be the benefits of having this person stay in the position?
  a.  Make a list of the advantages of keeping this person, such as not having downtime in the position, not having to find a train a replacement, etc.  You can weigh these factors against whatever you perceive as the person’s shortcomings: his lack of training, experience… (from question 2 above)

4.  What would be the difficulties associated with having this person stay in this position?
  a.  Is there a possibility of helping this person be successful in this position sometime in the future?  If not, move them – the sooner, the better.  Once you decide in your mind that ‘this person will never make it in this job,’ release them today instead of next month so they have an additional 30 days to be looking for a position that better suits them.
  b.  If you feel someone isn’t doing what they should, and if you don’t address it immediately, you’ll soon resent that person and think, ‘I’m paying them, but they’re not performing.’  You will grow angry that they’re still around, and that emotion will cloud the issue.
  c.  However, you also need to be sensitive to their life situation.  As a rule of thumb, treat an employee you’re releasing as you would want your father, mother, brother or sister to be treated.

5.  What psychological dynamics are involved in this person’s staying or leaving?
  a.  Ask, ‘What will other staff members think?’  ‘What sense of loss will the person’s spouse experience and what will be the impact on the children?’  You may want to write out your thoughts on these factors before making a final decision.

6.  Can this person be transferred to a different position?  If so, what would be the associated advantages and difficulties?
  a.  A person who isn’t performing well in one position may be a big winner in another. To use a football analogy, the person who isn’t a good quarterback may really be an all-star tackle…

7.  How do I feel about this person?  And what feelings about the person are other team members experiencing?
  a.  Get in touch with these feelings.  Ask yourself, ‘Am it angry with this person, or am I being objective?’  You may need someone from the outside (another staff member, someone from another dept, or a consultant) to help give you objectivity.  Tell them, “I’m angry with this person and I’m afraid I’ve lost my objectivity.  Help me get a clearer picture.”

8.  Am I committed to this person’s success?
  a.  Do I care about this person enough to ask them to find other work where they can be more successful?

9.  What further questions must be answered before I will know whether they should stay or go?
  a.  In a potential firing, there always seem to be a few lingering questions that keep you from being totally sure about how to proceed.  Get these on paper and answer them before you make the final decision.

10.  What recognition does this person deserve?
  a.  If you were being released, what recognition would you want?
  b.  You may feel that ‘outstanding performance’ recognition is inappropriate for them.  You may fear that, by recognizing them, others may wonder ‘If they’re that good, what are they letting them go?’  But understand that this person has given part of their life to help your organization and whatever things they did right are what you are recognizing them for.  Make the effort to say ‘Thank-you’ in a meaningful way.  You may want to focus your comments on their attitude or character rather than their performance.
  c.  Especially on their last day, treat them the way you’d want someone to treat a member of your family.

One other thought:

When you determine you need to ‘fire’ someone, you need a plan as to how you will be talking with them.  Some pointers:

  a.  Use the “Sandwich” approach
    i.  Tell them something positive – soft bread on top
      1.  how you appreciate them as a person
      2.  a contribution they’ve brought to the organization
    ii.  Tell them you’re letting them go – meat in the middle
      1.  if you want to re-assign them to an area where you think they’ll do better, then also let them know how their gifts aren’t a match for what they’re doing but how they will fit better for something else that you’d like them to consider
      2.  if you don’t want to reassign them, simply be clear and caring and brief.
    iii.  Try to close your time together as positively as you can. – soft bread on the bottom.
      1.  Sometimes this is very difficult; but, realize that you are doing the right thing for them and for the organization.  A proper perspective is key.  Try not to take it personally.

Removing the Wrong People
Posted: 26 Jun 2008 05:28 AM CDT

When you have an underperformer and you have tried to develop them but can’t, you’ll want to make a change.
Here are ten lessons I’ve learned:
1.  The right person in the wrong spot becomes the wrong person unless I do something about it.
2.  If you’re always trying to develop someone’s weakness, you probably have the wrong person.
3.  Keeping the wrong person to protect his feelings is unfair to you and to your team member.
4.  If God has shown you that a team member is not the right fit, you’re cheating the person by not removing him.
5.  You can’t have the right person in a role when the wrong person is filling it.
6.  The longer you wait to remove a wrong person, the harder it is for everyone.
7.  If you’re about to remove a person, they should already have a pretty good sense that things aren’t working out. If they don’t, you probably haven’t been fair in your communication to them.
8.  Honor the person you have removed even if they don’t honor you.
9.  Seek God, make a decision, and don’t waffle on it.
10.  If you aren’t faithful to do what God shows you to do, He isn’t likely to trust you with more.

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