You’re Fired!

Have you ever worked for an organization that was unwilling or unable to fire people? What about one that fired who and when they should. Which one was the better place to work?

Every high-performing organization (HPO) I’ve ever worked for was able to fire employees. There were clear standards for performance and behavior, and when those were violated, people were let go. And those fired were never surprised.

Other employers seemed unable to fire anyone and instead moved them around from time to time or simply tolerated their behavior. The most often cited reasons for this were that “they are too valuable, we don’t have a good enough reason, the lawyers, it will ruin their life, etc.”

None of these reasons suffice, and HPO’s can show you why. First, nobody is so valuable that they get to violate our organization’s standards for behavior and performance. Second, HPO’s are good at setting expectations and measuring performance, so those being fired are not surprised. Finally, it’s no favor to the fire-ee protecting them from the consequences of their actions. That’s called enabling.

Here’s what happens in organizations that don’t fire. The best people look at the worst people and ask themselves why they are working so hard. The newest employees will look at them and think “is that all they expect”? Their subordinates will be looking for new jobs.

Many people think that firing someone will scare the whole team. On the contrary, firing the right people, in the right way is key to organizational health. It says that our values matter. It says that you are part of a team with high standards, part of a team that will not tolerate mediocrity and misbehavior.

One rotten apple can spoil the whole barrel, and so it is with bad employees. Their actions and behavior bring everyone down a notch. Firing them re-enforces the message that we care – we care how we treat our customers and each other. We care about doing our work to the best of our ability. We care about standards and performance – and we won’t settle for less.

Where would you rather work, who would you rather buy from – an organization that won’t settle for less or one that makes excuses?

Not firing rewards the incompetent and insults your A players.


7 Responses to You’re Fired!

  1. This is a very big pet peeve of mine in organizations. At a previous employer there was an issue with a team member who they just wouldn’t fire, no matter how many times they came in late, didn’t get their work done, weren’t prepared, among a number of other things. Eventually, the person left the firm, but they should have been long ago for failing to perform. You’re right, it does set a bad example as to what is acceptable and what isn’t. An organization will be left with a number of people just doing the bare minimum to get by, instead of them performing at their top level. Blame poor HR systems and practices for this.


  2. […] firing thing is becoming a trend . . . Looks like I started something with my You’re Fired post.  Saw this one today from the HR […]

  3. tomob says:

    Hi Travis:

    Lots of traffic on this one – my conclusion? Companies that are not good at firing people are doomed to mediocre (or worse) performance.

    Not firing rewards the incompetent and insults your best performers.

  4. apu says:

    I think problem situations also arise, when instead of a clear policy, it is left to individual business heads’ discretion. This leads to a situation where some teams within the company fire non-performers, and others in the same company don’t because the bosses cannot bring themselves to.

  5. tomob says:

    Hi Apu – and even if there is a clear policy – most likely it is implemented differently across departments. Thanks for the comment – nice blog. (I see you are using the same template I am!)


  6. lynn says:

    I know a lot of managers who just give problem employees reduced hours, unpleasant work in hopes that they’ed just quit. Is this ethical?

  7. tomob says:


    I’m not sure if it is ethical or not. But I am sure that is is BAD management. (Avoid the issue, cause a little pain and hope it goes away . . .)


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