Briefings Magazine

When to Fire

Some people are not the right culture fit.

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By: Liz Bentley

Bentley is president of Liz Bentley Associates, a boutique consulting firm specializing in leadership development. 

A common mistake executives make is not firing fast enough. Slow firing is dangerous! Underperformers create an environment of complacency. This can lead to gossip, slowed work, incomplete projects, blame, and excuses. Firing appropriately pays off! It upholds high standards and inspires a culture of productivity, feedback, and accountability that leads to good workflow, confidence, and job satisfaction. 

To be sure, firing is hard. Most leaders want to believe people can improve, but sometimes enough is enough. Here are the signs it’s time to pull the trigger.

Poor Results. One person creating poor results affects everyone. Teams become lopsided when others need to pick up the slack to achieve positive outcomes.

Tip: Confirm the person in question understands the goals, timelines, and deadlines. Sometimes it’s just a communication fix, but when it’s a skill and productivity issue, it’s time to move on.

Can’t Hear Feedback. Critical feedback is hard, but necessary. Teams thrive when people take risks and push themselves. That means people will make mistakes and will need feedback to adjust and grow. Employees who can’t hear feedback tend to make excuses and blame others, and are unable to adapt to new systems or ideas. 

Tip: Make sure the feedback is clear and seek to understand why they can’t hear it.

Can’t Change. Some people are great at hearing feedback, yet are unable to shift accordingly. This can be because they don’t really agree with the feedback or because they don’t know how to change. 

Tip: Decide if you really need them to change. Do a cost-benefit analysis: Is the behavior really costing you or just annoying? Is the bad behavior hurting more than the good behavior is helping? 

Complaints. Are complaints coming from the people with whom they work—subordinates, peers, manager, or clients? If it’s the client, it’s especially bad.

Tip: Investigate to understand the root of the problem. Confirm it’s not a witch hunt and that complaints are related to outcomes. Occasionally, people complain because they’re being pushed out of their comfort zone—which may be exactly what they need.

Culture Fit. Some people are not the right culture fit. For example, if your team is introverted and tactful, someone who is extremely extroverted, loud, and direct might be too disruptive.  

Tip: It’s your job to decide if the outlier is exactly who you need to grow or not. Teams need a healthy distribution of personality types to be productive, but sometimes too much is just too much. 

Why We Struggle

No one wants to fire anyone; here’s why leaders struggle to do it:

Loyalty. The person has been with the leader a long time, is a friend, or has shared experiences. It could be that the leader just feels loyal to the people with whom they work. 

Self-Blame. Often leaders blame themselves. They fear the problem might be their own poor communication, lack of accountability, or unclear feedback. While that can be partially true, there is only so much a leader can do to help people perform.

Bad Guy/Gal Syndrome. Leaders fear not being liked, upsetting the team, and making changes. 

Indecision. Sometimes leaders just can’t decide. They keep looking at the pros and cons and get stuck. They will overindex on the pros, not realizing how much the cons are hurting them. 

If you really don’t want to fire someone, get them a coach! The coach will help them understand both the feedback and the need to change. Coaching will increase their self-awareness, get them unstuck, and push them to grow and improve. 

While firing is hard, ignoring the problem makes it worse. I find that when people finally do fire the person in question, they often wish they had done it sooner. It’s a step that can even benefit the person who was fired—maybe they were in the wrong position or needed personal growth. 

Don’t be afraid to fire—you likely won’t regret it.


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