Manager Advice #31: Firing people.

“You’ll never be a manager until you fire someone.” were the ominous words that kept ringing in my head. “It has to be done, and it has to be you.”. It was my first time firing someone as a manager, and I was terrified, probably more scared than the person I was firing.

Do you know how when you become a Manager you are expected to know stuff? This is one of those things, sometimes. I hadn’t had a mentor to walk me through the process, and I hadn’t fired anyone yet. It was my early years as a Manager. As many new Managers, I was too serious about the job. I wouldn’t ask for help either because of the profound sense of Duty I had or out of sheer terror of being ridiculed.

The problem was no one had ever told me what I was going to face. I had never been fired until then, so I had never been on the receiving end either. I had no idea what to expect and my Manager was far away. I looked for support from our HR person but she was on medical leave and one of her assistants was all I could help and that girl was even more scared than me.

How do you prepare yourself to fire someone? How will that person react? What words are the best you can pick? Are there any that are better than any other at all? Why did someone from HR had to be there? What if he starts yelling at me, turns violent or just insults me? Would he be disappointed? Would I? So many questions I had asked myself for days and days since the decision had been taken, so many answers nobody was giving me. Everyone was so elusive, so delicate around the subject I just felt I couldn’t or shouldn’t ask a lot.

Firing someone is almost as bad as getting fired, yet no one cares.

I did learn from that experience and from others that came after that. I still do not there’s one best way to do it, it’s not a nice thing to do at all, but you can make it better for the person being fired and for you, and it doesn’t take long.

Make your peace with the fact that that person needs to go. if you both have gotten to this point, then you have assessed the person and concluded that there’s only so much you and him / her can do. You have reached a decision, and you have your reasons. You don’t need to linger in the reasoning once you’ve gotten there.

Remember: it’s not personal. You are the Manager and the other person is your employee. There’s a job between you both, a professional relationship. You might have developed a certain bond, a mire important or slightly deeper bond with that person but at the end of the day, your job is to get the best out of them and assess it. Sometimes though, the result might not be enough and your action is needed.

Be professional about it. Your Company may or may not have a process for firing people. If there is one, follow it to the dot and only add / suppress whatever makes sense. If there is no process, just be professional: explain them why, be direct yet not hard. You are communicating a decision that has been taken, and it is your task to deliver it. They might not like you at all, but they understand.

It is emotional for them, and it might be for you. You are taking something away from them: a job, a salary and with it a certain security. It is bound to affect you both to a certain point, and it is actually ok. You should not avoid it but rather go with it and control it. You are not a machine and neither is the other person, and whatever emotions come up, you would do well on acknowledging them rather than ignoring them.

Give it a closure. You don’t want to leave things open. Avoid saying things like “if it was up to me” or “we’ll probably work together again”. What your doing is final in terms of employment, regardless of whatever might happen in the future. Do not leave open gaps for you, or open wounds on them. Remember they’re getting the worst part. You want to help them move along, not linger.

Don’t be afraid. Or if you are as I was, don’t let it get in the middle. Disappointment is a bad thing, but as everything it can teach you a lesson. You might disappoint them, or they you but facts are facts. You may not want to be there but the fact that you are says a lot more about you than you can fathom at that moment. You don’t need to be a hero, not even brave. You just need to be there.


Originally published at IT is what IT is.