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Why Firing People Is Sometimes the Best Thing You Can Do for Them


by Glenn Shepard
May 2, 2017
Category: Management




Cortland, NY May 9
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That phrase became part of pop culture thanks to a reality TV show that ended every episode with those two words.

But in reality, most managers will say just about anything except that.

Things like “Maybe you’d be happier somewhere else” or “This isn’t working out for either of us.”

My all-time favorite is “We’re freeing you up for other opportunities”.

A Baptist minister in Memphis took a more philosophical approach when he said “I’ve never fired anyone, but I’ve helped lots of people with the decision they’d already made for both of us.” 

Firing people is the worst part of a manager’s job. It’s also the most important.

In his best-selling book “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...and Others Don't” (which I highly recommend), Jim Collins wrote:

“If you have the wrong people on the bus, nothing else matters. You may be headed in the right direction, but you still won’t achieve greatness. Great vision with mediocre people still produces mediocre results.”

Yet no matter how sure you are that an employee has to go and that you’re doing the right thing, the emotions that managers feel after termination are endless.

Sadness, Disappointment, Failure, Loss, Sympathy, Concern, Heartache, Fear, Guilt, and the list goes on.

All but one of those emotions is reasonable.

Feeling sad and disappointed that the employee failed is reasonable, because you were invested in their success.

Feeling a sense of failure and loss is also reasonable, because we all lose when an employee has to go. Even though getting fired is never pleasant, it’ll probably be easier for him to find a new job than it will be for you to find a new employee.

Sympathy , Concern, and Heartache are also reasonable, because as a person with a conscience, you have compassion for other people even when you have to fire them (even though they may not believe it).

Fear is also reasonable. Fear of not being able to find another employee, of getting sued, or of violence are common because they happen so often.

But the one emotion you should never feel when firing is guilt.

Guilt is the appropriate emotion to feel when you did something WRONG, and you did nothing wrong by firing an employee who needed to go. To the contrary, you did exactly the RIGHT thing for your company, yourself, your other employees, and even for the employee that was terminated.

To Your Success,


Glenn Shepard

P.S. It never ceases to amaze me how many managers tell me about running into a former employee years later, and the employee actually THANKS the manager for firing them. With a little time and distance, they come to realize that they needed to go.

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