Breaking Up is Hard to Do

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When we teach managers about employee selection, we recommend they begin each interview by describing a win-win relationship in employment. You know, “We find a great employee who is contributing, reliable and loves their job, their team and our customers….You find a great place to work, meaningful goals and good opportunities for advancement.”

The relationship starts off on a good foot, but somewhere in the first few months, it’s clear we didn’t find a win-win. Oh sure, you have someone who occasionally shows up on time…and yes, you faithfully pay them every biweekly. But this is not a win-win. They’re not thrilled with your team or your customers, and you are not satisfied with the level of contribution. It’s time to break up. 

Considering today’s hiring challenges too many small businesses are tolerating poor performance out of a fear of being understaffed. However, continuing to lower the standard will only result in declining results, and frustration for you and other achievers on your team. This is why I’ve said many times, if you’re not good at hiring you’ll be reluctant to address poor behavior in your company. 

I’m not necessarily a fan of the entire adage, “Slow to Hire, Quick to Fire.” 

(read more here:

But I do recommend the second half; if the employment relationship is not a win-win, be quick to fire. 


There are good break ups and there are bad break ups. 


Some best practices:

  1. Termination should be within a formal disciplinary process. Follow it each time you are considering making this decision. Here’s one I like:
    1. After you have discussed the employee’s performance and there’s been no positive change, sit down one on one and deliver a “verbal warning”. Tell them what is expected of them vs what they are doing and let them know you’ll be taking further action if there is no change. (At this time, I would also readdress the idea of the win-win in employment. Ask the employee, “Is this still a win-win for you?” You two may decide to part ways right here. Make a note of your conversation and the date and put it in the employee’s file. 
    2. If there’s a second infraction, you’ll have a meeting to deliver a “written, final warning’. This includes a written document detailing the issue. Have the employee sign it and put it in their file. Let them know any further misbehavior will result in termination. Again, refer back to the win-win employment relationship. The seriousness of this conversation may result in a resignation. 
    3. The third meeting is the termination. You’ll bring a termination document, both of you will sign it and you’ll have it witnessed by another manager. 
  2. Your policies and procedures (including the above disciplinary process) should be detailed in an employee manual. Go through it during your initial orientation and have each employee sign a form indicating they’ve read and understood all policies.
  3. Issues of Gross Misconduct are exempt from this process and call for immediate termination. Examples: workplace harassment, violence, theft, discrimination, etc. 
  4. Know your state’s employment law. All employees have rights. Be sure you are following due process. 

Instead of Slow to Hire, Quick to Fire, do this; Become a master of hiring and commit to win-win relationships. When it’s no longer a win-win make the change quickly.  You’ll be doing yourself—and them—a favor.


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