Letting Go Of An Employee

Letting Go Of An Employee

We recently had to let go of an employee

Despite multiple meetings, advise, and guidance, this person just can’t cope with the expectations and pace of the company

“Hire slow, fire fast”

I’ve been thinking a lot about this phrase – The longer I am in my entrepreneurial journey, the more I think that this is true

I highly recommend that entrepreneurs heed to this advise for the betterment of their companies

Why? Because making a wrong hire is detriment for any company. Even more importantly, it can critically impair the progress of a young company; which is the current case for us

In a young company’s situation, typically the first few employees will play a key role in helping the company grow

That person might not be the one tasked with all the strategic thinking, but he or she will definitely be the one executing key tasks to propel the company forward. If that can’t be done, we can’t capture opportunities fast enough, which potentially leads to loss of revenue, reduction of runway, and a lot of other negative things which you can probably imagine by now

Even worst, if said employee is unable to perform basic tasks up to standard, they will jeopardize current revenue and drive away loyal customers that we have spent so much time and effort capturing

It’s not my first time letting an employee go, but it’s still not a pleasant experience. Here are some of the things that I’ve learned about letting go an employee

Acknowledge that you (I) are a part of the problem

I believe that whenever a situation arises, one should look inward first instead of looking outward. Looking inward means acknowledging and accepting responsibility for the part that you played in the resulting situation, no matter how small or how big

Yes, there are many factors beyond our control – and that’s exactly the point. Don’t spend time trying to change other people and controlling things that you can’t. You’re better off improving what’s within your control – the mistakes you made and how to avoid them in the future, new processes to be put in place, and better questions to ask the next hire

In this case, I played a big role – I was the one that hired said employee

I should’ve did more background checking and skills verification before I hired that person

I hired too quickly

Be clear about your expectations

Letting go of an employee starts way before you break the news to that person

The moment you realize that their performance is not up to par, you need to first set clear guidelines of what improvements are expected of that person (compared to their initial job description), and within what timeline

It’s extremely important for your expectations to be crystal clear instead of vague expressions such as ‘You need to give me better work’

Some examples of clear deliverables for our business include

  • Stock listings need to be updated by 5pm each day
  • Reporting formats need to be consistent (fonts need to be same sized, no oddly colored cells due to copy / paste, formulas need to be double checked)
  • Campaign reports need to to submitted every biweekly, and staffs need to tell us 2 things – what worked and didn’t work, and why
  • Updated customer lists need to be submitted every Monday, before 6pm
  • Delivery lists need to be compiled and submitted every day before 6pm

Don’t do it out of a sudden

One question I always ask my staff on a weekly basis is – What was the biggest challenge you faced last week, and how can I help make things easier?

Asking this question frequently brings a lot of benefits:

  1. It lets employees reflect on their current weaknesses, which in turn gives them some realization about the skillsets that they need to improve on or gain to do their job better
  2. It encourages staff to speak up and communicate with us
  3. In turn, it gives us an opportunity to explain to employees why we are able or unable to make certain changes in processes or tools
  4. It allows us to find out about current weaknesses of our processes or tools, giving us an opportunity to increase efficiency
  5. When there are minimal bottlenecks in terms of processes or tools, staff tend to be happier and are less likely to leave

Back to my case, I’ve had weekly meetings with this staff and constantly updated her about her about her current shortcomings and all the skillsets that she needed to improve on. I have also been very honest with her that I am worried about her performance and explained to her how these will lead to the detriment of the company, together with a timeline on the tasks that she need to improve on.

This way, if they do not meet the company’s expectations, at least letting them go will not come unexpected

Be objective

When a staff is not up to par, it’s very easy to start bringing emotions in, especially in an SME where every mistake will cost the company some way or another

However, being emotional will do more harm than good. Hence, it’s very important to be objective and focus on the person’s performance instead of the personality

Focus on specifics of a task or responsibility, such as:

  • There were multiple mistakes in this report, they were A, B, and C
  • Within the past week, there were X number of orders that was mistakenly packed

..instead of the person’s personality, emotions, or tone

No need to add on things like “I don’t understand what you are thinking”, “So simple also cannot do?”

Be gentle and show compassion

While the employee is not a good fit for our organisation, it doesn’t mean we need to be harsh with them.

Everyone has emotions – It’s unavoidable that an employee will feel disappointed, angry, or even betrayed when they are let go; but that doesn’t mean that we can’t do our part in minimizing these negative emotions

In our case, we took action to give the employee a longer than required notice period, and allowed them to take some paid days off if they had other interviews scheduled

Be transparent, but firm

Unless it is a serious violation or if the employee has done something illegal, letting someone go is usually not a decision that is made immediately

It’s important to be transparent (in an objective, compassionate manner) with the employee about the reasons they were let go

What were the performance or attitude issues, what was discussed in their performance reviews, and what were the improvement guidelines done beforehand that was not met – that ultimately led to the decision of letting that employee go

Remember, it’s a decision and not a negotiation. At this point of time, there is already no more room for discussion

Moving forward

In my opinion, the overall hiring process is really one of the key areas of building a successful business

I think the most important thing that we need to improve on in future hires is to take more time to talk to more candidates, even if we are hard pressed for new staffs

On top of that, we need to conduct better background checks and also skills verification

Things like

  • Getting them to build up a simple excel chart from scratch that’s related to our reports
  • Answering some marketing questions to understand their thought processes
  • Showing us some previous portfolios

Lesson learned, time to move on

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