MANAGEMENT: 3 Questions to Ask When You're Thinking About Firing Someone

How do you know it’s time to let someone go? 

If someone's behavior puts the safety of other employees at risk, if they engage in unethical or criminal behavior, it's easier to know it's time for them to be gone.  Unfortunately a lot of situations are not that black and white. 

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It’s not always easy to know when you’re being too easy on people and sometimes hard to stop yourself from being too hard on them...especially when you’re frustrated. 

Work is professional but often feels personal. It’s awkward to sit people down and tell them they’re failing.  Most of us aren't trained to know how to do it well.  

Loyalty and humanity are important—but so is protecting the rest of the team from bad attitudes, a lack of effort, incompetence, and laziness.

These are three smart questions to ask yourself to get clear and be fair to them, yourself, and the team members who have to work with them.

*All of these questions assume that the business is healthy and that person in question performs a useful role.  If the business is struggling or the person is doing a job you don't actually need, different standards would apply.


Once someone is hired we stop evaluating and start trying to make it work—sometimes long after it stops working altogether.  The problem is called Ownership Bias.  We overvalue what we “own.”

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The single best question for getting really honest about an employee is, 

“Based on what you know about their ability, work ethic, and personality; would you hire them again for the position they’re in?” 

If the answer is anything but, “HELL YES,” you have a problem. 

If you can't get yourself to let them go, at least confront the core performance issues.  Remember they aren't just a problem for you; their work affects the people around them. 



Employee performance can be described as a combination of three categories:  ATTITUDE, EFFORT, & RESULTS.  In general you want all three all of the time from all your people.  (Why would you continue to work with anyone that wasn’t consistently reliable for all these things?)  But it is true that sometimes people have bad days or go through rough patches.  

My rule is that team members must ALWAYS be giving at least 2 of the three.  Use this question to help you identify and address issues before they become chronic. 

If one or more of these three is consistently missing it’s time for a change. 



(This standard applies to general performance issues, NOT illegal or immoral behaviors.) 

The Fighting Chance Standard helps you think about whether you’ve met your responsibilities as a manager so you can see where responsibility and consequences belong to them.  Ask yourself if YOU:

  • Set clear expectations?  Good management includes being clear about what the target is and whatever expectations you have for HOW they will get the job done.  If you’re not sure you did, assume you did not.  Thinking they should know is very different than actually setting clear expectations. 
  • Trained them? (Or made sure they knew how to complete the work.)  Were they trained in the technical aspects of the job--or just shown how once or twice?  Are you expecting them to figure out new equipment or software or processes without real help?
  • Provided accountability and support?  Managing people is not micromanaging them.  It's also not ignoring them until you need something or you're mad.  Active Management means knowing what people are tasked with and how they're going to accomplish it.  It also means tracking their work so you can catch breakdowns before they happen and provide support along the way.  

If you’ve done all three of those things, that person has had a FIGHTING CHANCE to succeed.  It’s fair at this point to discipline or even fire them depending on the significance of the failure.

Our job as leaders is to run profitable enterprises that can continue to serve customers well and be a good opportunity for our other employees. 

Keeping bad, unskilled, or ineffective people is a luxury most companies cannot afford to indulge in for long. 

If you can’t afford to keep someone, if they aren’t needed, aren’t a fit, or they ARE an active problem it’s better for BOTH of you and for the organization to professionally transition them out. Good leadership is often a function of how willing you are to make the hard call. 

If you do need to let someone go, be honest with yourself and brave enough to make the decision.  Be fair and professional with them, and if possible, be kind as well.  


Wondering how to build processes that make it easier for your people to win? 

Check out Part II.  It includes detailed instructions for how to think through the different parts of your organization, figure out what you need and where to start.  Get the download HERE.

Want better, more productive meetings where more gets done and less brain damage is suffered? 

When you apply process science and some tricks from human behavior you get three really smart ways to make meetings a whole lot better.  Read more HERE.

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About the Author:  Alecia Huck is a hard person to find and a good person to know.  She specializes in working with fast-growth companies who need to learn the block & tackle skills of leadership; how to hold people accountable, run great meetings, keep track of people and work--the kind of tactical support that it is really hard to win without. 

Find out more HERE.

Contact Alecia at