Should You Fire Them? Hell Yes.
There’s one element essential to exceptional leadership that’s non-debatable:
Great leaders and organizations have the courage to fire people that need to go.
Look, firing someone sucks. It’s hard for everyone involved: leaders commonly cite firing as one of the hardest things they have to face, while research shows that the pain of being fired can be comparable to losing a spouse.
Though it might be a heavy burden at times, it’s a responsibility that comes with the crown.
Part of what sets great leaders and organizations apart is their willingness to identify what needs to be done, make the difficult decisions, and have the courage to do the hard thing.
But how do you know if someone deserves to be fired?
Whether you have someone who is an underperformer or toxic to your culture, both can have a drastic, harmful impact on your organization.
If you want to know if you should fire someone, ask this one question that puts it all on the table:
Knowing everything you know now about how they show up and perform their job, would you hire them again?
If the answer is no, they’ve got to go.
Seem harsh? Let’s dive into a few reasons why keeping the wrong people is bad for business.
1. Poor Morale (People Will Hate Coming To Work)
The biggest sign that there’s someone toxic in your office is an overall loss of morale.
Wharton management professor Sigal Barsade talks about how one toxic employee can ‘infect’ your entire team:
“An office ‘could unknowingly be affected by a particular negative group member... who causes the entire group to feel apprehensive, angry, or dejected, leading to possible morale and cohesion problems, unrealistic cautiousness, or the tendency to disregard creative ideas,’ she writes.” (Inc)
A loss of morale—how an employee feels about their work environment—contributes to the kind of poor work culture that can wreak havoc on even the most prosperous business. A loss of morale commonly manifests as a sense of dread, meaning your employees will soon start hating coming into work, which brings us to…
2. Good People Leave (High Turnover)
You’re losing your best people by keeping your worst ones. We’ve all heard stories from great people who quit their jobs due to a toxic co-worker or leader who made their job unbearable. The longer you hold onto bad employees, the more damage they silently wreak on your business. The most damning fact?
“If you keep bad people, good people will leave, and replacing them can cost up to 200% of their salary."
The solution? Fire quickly, says Sam Altman.
If you don’t get rid of bad apples, you’re essentially paying someone to slowly ruin your company.
You know who those people are. You know who doesn’t pull their weight and makes work uncomfortable at your office.
Organizations owe it to their employees to get rid of the bad apples early and often. If you had to choose between losing your best people or keeping the bad ones, which would you choose? This is a no-brainer, people. Don’t let the fact that it’s uncomfortable to let someone go stop you from doing what needs to be done.
3. Performance Tanks: Poor Culture & The Rise of Unethical Behavior (Assholes Breed Other Assholes)
Professor of Psychiatry at UCSF Dr. Cameron Sepah makes a poignant observation about the real consequences of keeping on bad employees, writing that,
"The biggest mistake that I see companies make is that they will retain competent assholes because they are seen as critical to the company or difficult to replace. However, by doing so, they not only passively reinforce the competent asshole’s behavior by tolerating and promoting them, but they implicitly send the message to the rest of the company that you can basically get away with murder so long as leadership believes you to be indispensable. You can imagine what kind of culture this creates over time."
What many organizations fail to realize is this: what you allow, you endorse.
Your leaders personify your values. If the consequences for poor behavior aren’t upheld, it sends out the message that poor behavior and performance is acceptable, which sends productivity downhill.
In short, misery loves company, and assholes breed other assholes.
4. All The Hires That Could Have Been (What You’re Missing Out On)
There’s someone out there who’s just dying to bring their best to your business. Just think of the many qualified, high-performing people out there who would enthusiastically step into this role and crush it. Don’t miss out on all the exciting new hires that could have been just because you’re too afraid to hurt someone’s feelings by letting them go.
All of this isn't to say you should walk into their office and escort them out of the building right now, of course. The first step is a straightforward, no-bones conversation so your employee knows their job is at stake if their performance doesn’t change. An excellent resource that I highly recommend reading for every leader (and human being) is Susan Scott’s book “Fierce Conversations” for a valuable, step-by-step guide on exactly how to have these difficult conversations.
If it comes to it and you want to learn how to fire someone the right way—with compassion and empathy—Harvard Business Review has a great piece that shows you how to do so.
Although firing is about as pleasant as getting a root canal, employing it strategically works in favor of the company. Our goal in business is to win. You can’t win with a mediocre team (or worse, a coach who keeps putting a mediocre player on the field because they don’t want to make them feel bad). Much like how a good coach knows when to cut a player from the team, it’s the responsibility of a good leader to fire someone when it serves the company’s best interests.
*If someone comes to mind while you’re reading this article, you probably need to fire them. Quickly.