How to Avoid Firing An Employee

Ron West, author of “Corporate Caterpillars: How to Grow Wings”

How to Avoid Firing An Employee

By the time most business leaders utter those immortal words “you’re fired” they are usually massively relieved. It is often said that no leader ever wishes they had waited before firing an employee. Most wish they had done it much sooner. But does it really have to be that way? Is there no alternative? Actually, there are five things that you can do to avoid firing an employee.

You can avoid firing an employee by not hiring them in the first place. Seems obvious, but so often we don’t look at how the work is organized and whether there is a better way to distribute the work. What was once a full time job invariably gets reduced to something less with the passing of time and growth in expertise and familiarity. Instead of assuming you need another employee, take a critical look at everyone’s job and redistribute tasks. Another option is to outsource the additional work until you are convinced it is a full time job. Or perhaps offer overtime or even a special bonus for exempt employees so existing employees tackle the additional work. It is important to act quickly, though. It is not necessarily prudent to hire quickly. Consider your alternatives first.

Another way to avoid firing an employee is to stop hiring the wrong people. Those leaders without a high level of awareness tend to often hire people they like that are similar to their own behavioral style. This invariably leads to a clash of personalities. There is a need to strike a balance so the new employee “fits” within the prevailing culture but can also find a place, that is a role, they can call their own. I have heard too many times that the candidate selected was not a great fit but the best of the bunch. Settling for less than you need is a sure-fire way of having to fire them later. There are so many other things that can go wrong in the process that to override your initial misgivings is asking for trouble. Trust your judgement. Post or advertise again. If you followed the first piece of advice given, you have more time to find the right candidate anyway.

Let us consider that initially we enrolled others in the company to take on the new responsibilities and then later found what we thought would be the ideal candidate. We hired them. Profiling, screening and interviewing is still not an exact science. We can find ourselves with a less than perfect fit. Before we fire the individual, though, we might ask ourselves if we put them in the right seat on the bus. Invariably we make assumptions about someone’s skills and talents during the selection process, and sometimes we are just plain wrong. But it may be they would be perfectly suited in a modified role or a completely different one. Take the time to analyze their skills and talents and see if there is not a better fit somewhere else in the organization.

Another way to avoid an unnecessary firing of an employee is to invest the time in their integration. So many times we rely on throwing them in at the ‘deep end’ in the hope that they figure it out. They learn the prevailing culture and mostly try to apply what seemed to work in a previous job. By the time the leader listens to the complaints from other employees, you have an irrecoverable situation on your hands. All of this was completely avoidable if you had invested the time at the start to set clear expectations. Invest the time, especially in the first 100 days, to make clear what the new position needs to produce and how the work is to be done.

Despite our most valiant efforts to avoid firing an employee, we can find ourselves with a poor performer. It seems as though there really is no alternative than to let them go. Rather than wait until it reaches this sorry state, the last thing we can do is to move more quickly. But not to fire the employee, to take corrective action. So often we wait until there is no alternative left. If someone is not meeting expectations, take action. If someone really cannot do the job they will often self select and leave of their own accord. But if someone is trying and failing, give them a chance at success. Instead of focusing on their shortcomings and berating them for not doing better, try explaining what is required and what it looks like. Offer encouragement and continuous coaching. Following all five guidelines above may not completely avoid you having to fire another employee, but you will be sure you did your best to help make them successful. Is everyone not entitled to a chance at success?

About the Author

As a long-time corporate transformation expert, Ron J. West has helped many individuals and businesses successfully transform themselves. The key to Ron’s success is shared with readers in Corporate Caterpillars: How to Grow Wings. What has he discovered? For a company to transform itself, its leaders must be willing to grow and change themselves. Learn more at