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Firing as an act of kindness.

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It’s hard to imagine firing someone as an act of kindness. But, it can be the kindest option.

Sometimes, people aren’t a good fit for their role. They lack the capability and/or the will to perform1.

Often it’s because we – the hiring manager – got it wrong when we picked them for the role.

Other times it’s because people and roles evolve in incompatible ways.

Either way, the outcome is the same.

First, give the person kind and direct clarity about the ways in which they’re underperforming. Then a reasonable amount of time and support to address them.

If they don’t close the gap, be kindly decisive and move them on.

It won’t feel kind in the moment. It’s hard for everyone. Especially the person being fired.

But, what’s the alternative? Ignore it and let them flounder? Leave them in extended performance management purgatory? Or – the worst I’ve seen – speak poorly of them and let them become known as someone who’s no good at their job? All of these options are harmful for the person’s self-esteem and team morale.

Hence, a swift exit is often the kindest option.

It’s short term pain for the long term gain of the team and – hopefully – the individual.

Sometimes, we will need the humility to say “I’m sorry, I got this appointment wrong”.

And we can always let the person leave with dignity and a generous sense of compassion for how hard it is to lose your job. Show up and treat them as human beings. We can’t let our ego, shame and guilt prevent us from being present for them as they leave. They won’t always welcome our support, but we can always offer it.

Be generous. Consider compensating them for the transition (as at Netflix, where “adequate performance gets a generous severance“). Or providing career counselling to help them find a great fit elsewhere.

Because being a poor fit doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with them. Everybody fits somewhere, but none of us fits everywhere.

Finally, moving on creates a win-win opportunity. The chance for the individual to find a place where they’re a great fit and feel wonderfully valued. And for you to learn from past recruitment mistakes and find the great fit you need.

One question for you

Think of your lowest performing team member. And any ways in which you’re avoiding the problem (e.g. by not giving them kind and direct clarity, ignoring them, letting them flounder etc.). What’s one action you could take this week to kindly move them towards resolution (whatever that looks like)?

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[^1]: I’m excluding cases of gross misconduct, including misrepresentation of a candidate’s suitability during recruitment. These are separate cases.