‘Please Fire Me!’

Contribution Management Respect


Key Point: The title of this blog is the “inside voice” of too many people in the workplace. They might not be saying it with words, but they’re yelling this at the top of their lungs every day through their behavior. You know who they are because they’ve likely quit on the job a long time ago, and are just going through the motions. These people will probably never do anything egregious to force a manager to fire them. And they may try to make themselves “necessary” by protecting their own work process. However, they usually do something worse; they barely show up and just make “vanilla pudding” every day. They are often very nice people who others like as a co-worker. Yet are they hungry? Are they on a relentless pursuit to get better and to make things better? Do they share their knowledge and help others develop? Do they connect problems to solutions? Are they self-accountable, respectful and abundant?

When there’s a person on the team who doesn’t fully contribute, it will sub optimize the entire group. When someone is under performing, it is usually a lack of will, focus and/or capability. When it’s capability, it’s often possible to further develop an eager learner if they have a reasonable aptitude for the skill and role required. Focus, and “will,” can be addressed through solid coaching. But there is a reasonable return on coaching investment and when someone quits being “hungry” and stops holding up their end of the bargain to fully contribute, the right thing for all stakeholders is to fire them. As much as a boss may hope that things will work out and resist the idea of having to crush the person’s hopes as well as source of income, firing can be the best thing we can do for someone. Keeping an employee in a job that’s not right for him or her is wasteful and disrespectful to all.

We should never act impulsively, relish firing, overreact emotionally or feel insensitive when it comes to letting someone go. I worked for one person who fired people as a matter of course, primarily to feed a GIANT ego. I’ve also worked for someone who never fired anyone directly in 20 plus years of leadership. Seriously? Neither extreme is very constructive.

At this time of the year, many companies are doing so called “talent reviews” and/or “succession planning.” What are they saying about you? We all fall into one of two categories: We’re moving forward or we’re falling back. If it’s the latter, one day, someone will likely say, “let’s move that person out.” What are you signaling?

Character Moves:

  1. If you’re in a leadership role, determine who, by their behavior, really wants to find a way to leave? Who is just going through the motions? Are you having a crucial conversation with this person? Do they know what message they’re sending? Are you challenging them with a respectful, yet very frank “up or out” discussion?
  2. In your role, what behavior are you demonstrating to make sure your boss fights for you as a valuable contributor? Don’t be lulled into the belief that being “steady Eddy or Jenny” is good enough. As the bar gets raised you may be inadvertently signaling to your boss that you want to be replaced. One day you will, if you aren’t continuously learning, making things better and being a great team member.
  3. When you DO fire someone (because they aren’t contributing relative to the investment in them) treat him or her with the most respect possible. Compensate them generously. DO NOT BE A CHEAPSKATE. Be empathetic and fair while also direct and constructive. Everyone will thank you; even the person you’ve fired.
  4. If you haven’t moved (constructively fired) a reasonable percent of people out of your area each year, you’re likely not being respectful and listening to your team. And unfortunately, seniority by itself is mostly meaningless, unless that experience translates into ever increasing value. No one can rest on what they did in the past. Look around you: Who will be there next year?

Fire in The Character Triangle,