Part 3: Four Key Steps for Successful Firing

For this final post on firing, I interviewed our resident HR guru, Fred Crum, to learn the steps that should be taken to fire an employee well. Fred believes in firing “smartly” and has a wealth of knowledge regarding interviewing, best hiring practices, employee engagement, management, and of course, terminating employees. Fred has 30+ years of experience at UPS in Operations as Hub Operations Manager, and in Human Resources as Regional Vice President of HR. He now owns Personnel Profiles, an employment-consulting firm.

For small- to mid-sized business owners, the idea of terminating an employee can be difficult to consider. In companies with a tight-knit culture where employees are often treated like family, it sometimes seems easier to let a long-term employee who is disengaged simply remain than to consider the consequences, and benefits, of firing them. This post may sound like the opposite of firing fast but we want to encourage readers to hire and fire the right way.

Fred challenges business leaders to see the bigger picture. He says a company has to examine its conscience. If the company’s core values are respecting, trusting, and investing in good people, it would make sense to be extremely patient with a disengaged employee. However, “accepting poor performance is in a broader sense disrespectful to other employees who work hard to uphold the standards of performance that will sustain a company’s success.”

Leadership should take this opportunity to conduct a root cause analysis. Often a root cause analysis is conducted when a company loses a top customer or when an accident occurs or when an expensive piece of equipment breaks down. Why is there not a similar approach when we are considering terminating a valuable employee?

“Knowing what’s happened to [the disengaged employee] will help them grow as leaders and help them grow their management people to identify the [disengaged employees] more quickly and take more of an aggressive role in flushing out these employees. I worry about these employees because they aren’t doing themselves, their families or their companies any good.”

To reaffirm your company’s core values, due process should be given to any employee who is not performing. “Everyone has to feel as though they’ve had their day in court.” Of course, Fred says the employee waives his or her right to due process if there is alcohol, drugs or theft involved.

Here are the 4 key steps to successfully administering due process to an employee and eventually terminating their employment.

1. Verbally address the problem

The direct manager should have a conversation with the employee. The manager should address the problem and get agreement from the employee that the problem does in fact exist and they own the fix. Next, the manager should secure commitment from the employee as to how he or she is going to address and fix the problem. Fred says it’s essential the manager makes clear that this is a performance issue and not a personal issue.

2. Document the problem

If the employee continues to have a problem, it’s the manager’s responsibility to elevate the conversation and bring the employee back in. Remind the employee 
of when you last spoke, that you agreed on the problem and made a commitment to fix the problem. Then ask why the commitment hasn’t been followed through on. “Is the employee repentant? Does he or she ask for additional opportunity? Maybe in that case, we send a letter to [the employee] addressing what was committed, and that becomes part of his or her file.”

3. Suspension

If the employee continues, they should be invited back into the manager’s office for another conversation. The manager should remind the employee that they were given a letter but the performance has not improved. The next step is suspension for a day without pay, “to reflect on what was discussed.” Before the employee comes back to work, he or she should write a letter in their own handwriting addressing what they will do to fix the problem. “If there is a legal dispute, this often comes back to strengthen the due process,” says Fred.

4. Bring in upper management

Finally, if the employee’s behavior still continues, to get the employee’s attention, the manager should bring his or her own boss into the conversation. “You and I have had several conversations, you’ve been suspended, it must be something I’m doing wrong in getting your attention, so I’ve brought in [my boss] to help us resolve the issue.” The manager’s boss helps to reaffirm at another level and it is the last and final step in holding the employee accountable for their poor performance before terminating.

A key point to remember in the “due process” of terminating an employee, Fred says, “it is not one person’s decision to fire someone, it should be a well thought out strategy and a collaborative effort to set up this plan to terminate.” If there is no one above the manager to assist, ask “people respected within the leadership or management group, with wisdom and experience to help coach the manager and the employee, someone who mirrors the company core values.”

Fred reminds us “of course, the most cost effective way to eliminate a poor performer is at the beginning, in the hiring process.”

He’s also said the company “has to fire [the employee] smartly because first and foremost we need to uphold our values, and secondly we should have concern that what we’re about to do with [the employee] is legally defensible.”

If you are a business owner or a manager who is having a difficult time with the decision or process of terminating an employee, you can reach Fred Crum through his website at or his LinkedIn page.

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