The First Time Is the Hardest
I remember the first time I had to fire an employee. It was horrible beyond description. First of all I had hired the person. She was in my graduate classes on Finance. Straight A’s, sharp as a wit, funny, and personable….all of this and a Finance major! The perfect choice for a financial analyst.
Three months into the job, she wasn’t catching on. She didn’t quite get the shift from academics to real life finance where there were decision-makers and non-financial people in the mix.
I felt so responsible for her. I spent extra time with her. I explained the problems and made suggestions. I used to have her job, so I felt like I could teach her any of it.
And she tried, bless her heart. It wasn’t an attitude issue. She was trying, but the position and her did not fit. Somewhere around the 9 month mark my boss and human resources said it was time.
I put her on a performance improvement plan and told her I would do everything in my power to help her achieve the objectives.
Still, it wasn’t working….
We were out of time and I had to fire her.
I worked for a corporation so there were all kinds of rules and processes. When we got a day or two out, I was literally sick.
I felt panic rise whenever I talked to her. I felt sick to my stomach when I thought about firing her.
I went over in my mind again and again “what else could I have done”?
When the day came, I was a mess. (I know I wasn’t being the one fired, but I couldn’t help it.)
I finally called human resources and asked if I could tell her in my office. The thought of calling her to HR to do it….she would know something was up and feel ambushed.
They reluctantly agreed because I told them I would bring her over right after I told her.
With all of the stress and drama building, I called her into my office.
I told her that I had some bad news but wanted to tell her myself. When I told her, voice and hands shaking, looking at her with such a look of “I am so sorry and I feel responsible”, she just smiled.
Yes, she smiled back at me. She looked at me with sympathy. She told me she knew it was coming and that she had taken her personal things home over a week ago. She even tried to make me feel better. “Sue, I know you did everything you could to help me. Don’t feel bad. I knew it was coming and I appreciate all you have tried to do.”
Phew! What a relief.
When I went in I felt like the biggest jerk in the world. She was now telling me that she was okay.
A Portrait of Someone Who Is Bad at Firing People
If you have ever been fire or fired someone you know what a crummy experience it is all around. Having had to fire people many times in my corporate career, I know how horrible it makes you feel.
When you know you have to let an employee go:
…you feel sick to your stomach
…you can’t concentrate, and you begin to obsess on what you are going to say and how you are going to handle their arguments, pleas, or tears.
….you second guess yourself about whether you did everything you could to help the person be successful