Timing out Firing

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Timing Your Firing
How do you know when it's time to fire an employee?

Recently, at the FenderBender Management Conference in Chicago, I was asked a question during a presentation I gave that I didn’t fully answer. The reason I didn’t fully answer it is I was caught off guard and needed a little more time to process it. The question was, “How long do you wait before terminating an employee who had the skills to perform the work well but had a personality that was disruptive to our company morale?” The immediate answer I gave was this: after several one-on-one conversations, I just end up knowing it was the right time. After the presentation was over, I found many people interested in discussing this particular topic in further detail for the remainder of the conference. I found myself having that conversation many times with other conference attendees. As I thought about it more, I realized I had always waited far too long to part ways with someone who was not a team player. There are so many different pieces of this topic, so I will briefly discuss each one.

I believe chemistry is crucial in every endeavor. Whether it’s with family, friends, colleagues, or, really, anyone, if chemistry is there, the relationship can generally flourish. The absence of chemistry makes progressing together very challenging. A great example of this is seen in the movie Miracle, the story of the 1980 USA Olympic hockey team that shocked the world by beating the four-time reigning gold medal–winning Russian hockey team and eventually capturing the gold medal themselves. When the team was put together, the coach selected not the best players but the right players. He knew in order to achieve such a lofty accomplishment, it was critical to have a team of players who got along with each other. During the lead-up to the 1980 winter Olympics, the NHL put together an all-star team to play the Soviets—and was sorely embarrassed. The skill level on that all-star team was very high, but they were all individuals who happened to be wearing the same jersey The team that eventually won the gold medal had much less talent, but they had great chemistry.

It can be very challenging in our times to consider getting rid of a skilled employee while the technician shortage is growing. There is no real way (that I know) to measure the impact of an employee who disrupts morale with a bad attitude. In the four times I have made this difficult decision over the last 20 years, I can tell you I never regretted the decision. In fact, my only regret was that I didn’t make the decision sooner. And while there is no direct measurement, I can tell you the feeling in the shop the next day after making those decisions was undeniable. Everyone could feel a weight lifted. The four times we let someone go for personality reasons, we chose not to replace that person with a new hire. And each time, we were able to maintain or increase our sales/production. It is amazing what a team of people who get along can accomplish.

The questions asked of me was about knowing the right timing. While I still don’t believe I have a direct answer to that, I wanted to discuss it in greater detail. I hate that we live in a throwaway society. I believe there are many relationships that can and should be salvaged that are too easily given up on. I think we owe it to ourselves and our team to make a genuine and direct effort to help our team get along. Of course, it starts by hiring the right people. I believe we hire people for what they know or can do and fire them for who they are. When we hire people here at Boggs Auto, we spend a good amount of time and multiple interviews getting to know who they are. We can teach them skills that they may be lacking, but it is much more difficult to impact their personality. It’s not impossible, I might add, it just takes more effort to turn behavior around than it does to teach a new skill.

There is another aspect of knowing when to do this and we discuss it all the time here. Whenever we have made the decision to remove the team player with the worst attitude, someone always immediately fills that role. If there are two people working together someone will inevitably have the worst attitude. It doesn’t necessarily mean they have a bad attitude, it just means it’s not the same as the person who has the best attitude. This is important to remember when evaluating whether or not to move on from a person on your team. Do your best to evaluate them individually instead of comparing them to the best performers in your company. If you do have to make that difficult decision to move on from someone, I can tell you from experience that we survived to tell the story.

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