The Right Way to Fire Someone


They say, “You have to break a few eggs to make an omelet.” This expression refers to the cost of producing anything, how any final product will come at the sacrifice of at least the ingredients involved. For the most part, this expression is used to state the fact that, in order for greatness to be achieved, something or several somethings must be sacrificed along the way.

When you’re trying to make the best possible hire for an open position at your company, the eggs are candidates and the omelet is the open job being done to a degree of excellence. The reason that the omelet isn’t making a hire, is because making a hire doesn’t always result in the end goal of making that hire: the job being done to a degree of excellence.

Sometimes, even though months were spent gathering the candidate data to make a great hiring decision, the person who is hired isn’t up to the job. Maybe they weren’t clear on what the job actually involved. Maybe they thought they could “fake it till they made it.” Maybe they are great at their work, but are driving the rest of their team on edge. However an employee fails to meet the demands of a job or causes problems with their co-workers, the bottom line is that it was a mistake to hire that person.

Instead of solving your problems, this mistaken hire is giving you a sample platter of errors and conflicts for you to snack on. Instead of being able to focus on your job, you’re focusing on their job and how terrible they are at it.

Acknowledge the Mistake

When a mistaken hire is made, the first thing that you need to do is acknowledge that it was a mistake to hire them. Somehow, somewhere during the candidate selection process, this person was mistakenly identified as the best person for the job. Once you’ve acknowledged that the person for the job isn’t the best person for the job, you have a question to ask yourself:

Do I want to see if this hire can do better in this job, or do I want to try to make a hire who can do better in this job?

The truth is, no matter how closely you manage the mistaken hire, there is no guarantee that they will every work out in the job. While there’s something to be said for the benefit of the doubt, there’s even more to be said for hedging your bets. When you suspect that a new hire won’t work out in the role, you should both: monitor the employee’s progress in the position and start looking for people who can do their job more effectively.

As soon as you recognize that an employee has gotten into your company mistakenly, begin documenting the specific ways in which the employee is failing to meet the requirements of their job. Benchmarking your employees from their very first day will help you to build your cases when it is necessary. By documenting your mistaken hire from their first day, you can replace this problem hire more quickly and in a risk-free way.

Review Your Candidate Selection Process

To make a better hire for this position in the future, talk to the interviewing team about their decision making process leading up to this hire. By talking with them about their selection criteria and their general approach to making that hire, you can learn what led them to make the wrong choice.

  • Why did you believe the mistaken hire was a good fit for the job?
  • What candidate data led you to this decision?
  • What were the highest priority candidate competencies that you were screening for?
  • In retrospect, what early predictors can you see of their later failures?

Often times, hiring mistakes are made because one or more interviewer isn’t entirely sure what would make a good hire for the role. They may know which skills are important for a hire to possess, but they may not be able to prioritize these skills based on importance for success in the role.

To ensure a better fit in your next hire, everyone on the interview team should be clear on the most important skills for a hire to possess. In addition, each interviewer should also be able to clearly explain the job, its deliverables and its overall purpose in your company.

Firing the Right Way

In order to fire the right way, you will have to build a case to fire, documenting the employee’s short comings against the deliverables and expectations outlined in the job description. By following these best practices, you can move to fire while ensuring that your company is safe from a wrongful termination suit.

Communicate with the Employee

Communicating your expectations to your employees is always important, but never more-so than when an employee is failing to meet those expectations. You should always communicate to a mistaken hire how and when, specifically, they aren’t living up to their end of the bargain.

Communicating your expectations with a mistaken hire will ensure that you are both on the same page. If you have gone over their performance each time it’s been an issue, then they can’t claim to be surprised when you bring up the subject of their termination.

By communicating with an employee when they fail to meet their benchmarked goals, you will both motivate them to do their best and establish that continuing to miss these benchmarks will, eventually, force you to fire them.

Build your Case

In order to fire a mistaken hire and make room for a better one, you will need to have a solid, evidence-based case to fire that person.

When building this case, refer to the job description. When a new hire fails to complete a specific objective or their behavior causes problems with their co-workers, document the incident and date it. After several weeks or months, you will have a clear history of the employee’s performance and can compare this performance with the objectives in the job description.

Until you have recorded a trend of under-performance on the part of the employee, you should not move to fire them. Though it may mean an extra month managing a difficult employee, following a consistent, compliant firing process will protect your company from vindictive former employees.

Search for Talent

As you document the performance of the mistaken hire, you should absolutely take steps to find their replacement.

Though it can take some time to build a case for firing an employee, it can take even longer to find someone who is up for the job. Once you are certain that you will have to replace an employee, you can take steps to increase the speed of your next candidate search. Reaching out to finalist candidates from your last round of hiring, updating your job description and going to your employees for references will all help you to make a better, faster hire in the future.

By using communication best practices with mistaken hires and looking for talent as your build your case to fire, you can fire and re-hire quickly and without incident.


Leave a Reply