Most new managers try to “fix” every poor performer. This is part ego and part naivety that everyone can be “fixed.” But these employees suck up your time as a manager and keep you from spending time with your best performers. And when these managers are finally forced to fire their first employee, they rarely look back and think it was too fast.
So how do you know when it is time to cut someone loose? We dive into this topic using our personal experiences as managers and executives.
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How Do You Know When It Is Time To Fire Someone?
It’s come to that time when we have got to talk about your performance on this show. I have got a tough decision I’m going to have to make in the next couple of months. I’d like to give you a full chance to improve your performance, pick it up as a co-host, and be a better grown-up man.
Let me make a decision for you. I quit. I’m not going to quiet quit. I’m not going to do anything else. I’m going to tell you I have had enough. Good luck. I’m going to leave now.
I will tell you this though. If that were to have happened, that is exactly how I teach people how to fire people. Convince the other person to wave a white flag and give up. You don’t need to get HR involved. We don’t need any paperwork. I don’t need to put you on a performance plan. There’s no writing here. You are going to give me your notice. You can’t sue me because you quit.
Everything is fantastic. That is an ideal approach that happened. For our readers, that’s how you fire someone. You get them to throw in the freaking towel. Go find another show to be a cohost of. We are going to talk about what I would consider being the biggest fear of every new manager. All I do is work with new managers. I know how terrifying it is for people. Their concept of firing another person, taking their job away from them, looking them in the eyes, and saying, “You can’t work here anymore. You have not performed well,” is enough.
That fear is enough to keep a lot of people from ever putting their name in the hat to be a manager. I’m sure you have heard it, Frankie. You go talk to someone, and you say, “You’d be a great manager.” “No, thanks.” You dig and you peel that onion long enough to figure out, “Why don’t you want to do this?” One of the answers I always hear is, “I wouldn’t want to get into the firing and the hiring.” It’s the firing. Looking when the rubber hits the road. Me and you in an office. “You are fired. This is your last day.” That moment is so gut-wrenching to some people that they never applied to be a manager in the first place.
I don’t know if that was a handoff or that was another firing.
He’s not the best collar man in the business for nothing, folks.
There are other things that scare people about management because when you manage, you no longer do. You have to use your know-how of do, and you have to corral, motivate, and do other things. The firing process is part of it. We talked about Q4 of 2022. We thought there were going to be a lot of firings that were going to happen in the marketplace.
Right now, it feels like we are partly right. Big tech is certainly firing people. Fortune 500 are firing people in huge numbers, but the economy is reacting in a way where they are still hiring people. The small business is still hiring. The last jobs report was positive with hiring. It’s this weird place in the economy from the standpoint of what’s happening in the macro. What you are going to find is companies that are well-run are properly staffed. Companies that are not well-run aren’t properly staffed, and right now what they are doing is they are hiring in reaction because people are available.
You also have a dichotomy going on in the jobs market in that. High-paying jobs or big white-collar jobs are shrinking and a lot of the jobs getting created are in the service sector. They are not as high paying. They are a little more blue-collar. You have this dynamic of people that quit working for a couple of years during COVID are not getting benefits anymore. They are back out looking for jobs. They are looking for work.
Restaurants and hotels are able to find a little more people. That whole industry is growing, and when you start losing all those tech jobs, you are losing quarter-million-dollar jobs. That’s why San Francisco real estate is plummeting, and all of that money trickles through the economy. They will spend less when they consume less. Other people will lose their jobs. It all trickles down. I’m jumping in for a piece.
It’s fine. All that is in fact the case, but what we are going to talk about here is the hardest type of firing decision when you move into the managerial role. Ian and I have been doing this for a couple of decades at this point. It’s not like we are new to this. Sometimes, decisions to let people go are pretty easy. You get people who fit into the category of they are not good performers and got poor attitudes. They don’t fit into the mission or the culture. Those are the people that are the easiest to fire. The people that we have had to let go of are performers. I use a scale of 1 to 5. There’s ‘unsatisfactory’ and then there’s ‘meets the standard’.
I would think most of our readers understand that 1 through 5 sliding.
3s, 4s, and 5s are where you want to be. Threes are you are barely getting by. Fives are great. Stated simply, fours make you money. Anybody who’s a 3 or 4 makes you money. A five makes you a ton. As a business owner, you have to look at it from that perspective. If you have someone who’s a four, which I had, and they are acting in a way that doesn’t fit in or doesn’t promote cohesion or unity within your team, these are people that you have to eventually let go. Ian and I got into a conversation about, “How do they fit?”
How do you determine when it’s time to fire someone? That’s the hard choice. You work with them, you coach them, and you spend some time. When is enough, enough? When do you make the decision? How do you rank them?
1) When and how do you fire them? 2) How do you explain it? In some instances, people don’t see the real reasons why you are going to let someone go. To their expectations, to someone who only touches them a couple of times a year or just sees them in the hallway, these are nice people who seem to be doing a great job. You have to explain away the reasoning so other people don’t freak out, leave, or worry about their job satisfaction.
Who’s the first person you ever fired? Not laid off. Fired their performance. Not a lack of work is simple. That’s easy to explain to someone, and you are normally forced into that by your company.
I don’t know if I ever had one of those, Ian, because at NVR, we didn’t fire people. We more did rifts. I can remember doing performance management like telling people, “Here are the six reasons you are not doing a great job,” but we never fired them.
You guys were soft as hell at the home builder. I came in there with a freaking chainsaw. I was in there. I was the Chainsaw Al Dunlap. I was getting after it. I came in with a can of gas and a match, and I was lighting that bad boy on fire.
The reason for it is you had a different upbringing. You came from GE where they always fired people.
I had a very different mandate when I started. I came in with a mandate of this is a very broken company. If I had come in as an executive after being told by the CEO, “You are coming in to fix a broken company,” and one year later, I kept all of the same people, I would have been a jackass. How do you fix something by keeping everyone?
At the time, Ryan Holmes was performing well in the home-building operation, and you didn’t have enough people so no one was firing. I was firing from month two. I was pushing people out the door. I was force ranking. Maybe 30% of the team that I inherited was still there two years later. I burned through a lot of people. They had hired poorly or had people that couldn’t accept change, which was my mandate by the CEO to go drive change if you can’t get your arms around it. At GE, it was 10% every year. The first guy I had to fire, it’s embarrassing. It took me as long as it did.
This is something we can bond over. Not who we fired, but the embarrassment of how slow it was the first time. Getting over that hump and realizing you’ve got to have a hard conversation with somebody about their performance and they don’t deserve to be there anymore is something every manager must face, and it’s incredibly difficult to do that the first time.Every manager must learn how to face hard conversations when firing people and accept that it is incredibly difficult to do the first time around. Click To Tweet
One of my best friends, a guy that was a manager with me is McCauley. Mac and I both got promoted to the job at the same time. We both have a similar story in that we had a soft spot for a lousy salesperson. We both had it for a different reason. My guy, his name was Al and he was probably in his mid-60s when I started. At my first management job, I was 24 or 25 years old. I was younger than his kids. Let’s put it that way. The reason I had a soft spot is I learned how to sell. I learned the ropes from guys like Al.
I remember he was in Cincinnati or Cleveland, 1 of those 2 cities in Ohio. I had visited him multiple times. He had taken me to see a lot of customers, showed me the ropes, and was kind to me. I met his wife. He brought me to his house when I stayed there one time. He was kind to me when I was nothing. I was a nobody. I didn’t know anything. I was a college kid.
I found myself managing him. I knew right from the start, he wasn’t doing what I had done as a sales rep. Once I’d grown up and learned how to learn how to prospect, cold call, get leads, and network. I knew what our guys should be doing and I knew he didn’t do it. He was holding on, calling on the same old accounts that were dying, and couldn’t make quota.
I’d spent a year trying to fix them, wasting all my time. By the time I did it, it was almost the point where I was told by my manager, “You got to go do it. Ian, we have talked about it enough. You are firing Al. No more of this. You are propping him up. You are not spending time where you should be.” It was almost a performance discussion for me that I had not taken action fast enough or swiftly enough. The experience formed how I thought.
There were two of them. Mac had an identical situation in Detroit with another guy who was an older guy who was nice. This guy had different issues. He was having marital issues and everything, but he was nice. Both of them. The common link is super nice, never argued with you, and would appreciate coaching, but never implemented. Couldn’t do it. Both of them.
When both Mac and I had to fire them, GE’s HR was so oppressive. It was awful. They had to be involved in every inch of it. They pretty much rewrote the performance plan to where it didn’t sound like I wrote it at all. They were so worried about getting sued. When it came time to fire them, they both knew it was coming because HR demanded to be involved in a meeting and they wouldn’t get their ass on a plane and come out. They had to call in. Think about how awful that is.
In my meeting, I meet with Al. I sit down with him and he’s like, “What are we doing?” I’m like, “I got to make a call here really quick, and I’m calling our corporate office.” I’m waiting for them to pick up. They don’t pick up. I have to zero out and ask if they can find her. All the while, think about this. Al is sitting there thinking. He’s looking at me like, “What’s going on?”
I have known him for five years now. I have known this guy. I’m not allowed to talk to him like a man. I’m not allowed to have a conversation eye to eye with him. I have to wait for HR to get on so they can listen in to hear if anything goes well, and their big thing was, “You are young and he’s over 60. Protect the class.” We ended up making him feel like a piece of shit because I had HR on there. They made me read some.
I never did it that way again after that even though I was young and they made Mac do the same thing. My big lesson there was I waited way too long, at least six months too long. I never again let HR form how I had that discussion. I always had it informally before HR got involved so that they knew this is coming. I’m talking to you eye to eye and it’s my decision. Al felt like someone else made the decision for me even after they got off the phone. He was like, “Do you agree with this?” I remember I bumbled that too. I didn’t do a great job because I didn’t agree with the way HR handled it, but I did agree he had to go.As a manager, never let HR dictate you when and how to fire people. Learn to talk to your team eye to eye when making such a huge decision. Click To Tweet
I think there are two categories. Once you get to being a manager and a seasoned one especially, firing is part of the job. It then comes down to there are two categories of firing. There are the people who are pretty easy to let go, and then there are the people who are harder. The people who are pretty easy to let go are either shitheads that don’t fit in or they are people who don’t do the work or a combination of both of those two things. Those are easy.
I have talked about this here. We have talked about it privately. What we do now with that is pretty simple. The way that Ian mocked fired me in the beginning is exactly it. You have a conversation. The person gets to the conclusion and you say to them, “I agree with where you have landed. How do we make this humane?” That’s the easiest and cleanest way to do it, and you do it in a way that everybody can agree to. It’s a complicated conversation, but if you do it right and you run the process the right way, unpleasant, but the most pleasant can possibly be and there’s no awkwardness. Do you agree with all of that?
Yes. Before we get into the conversation, I will be interested to see how you do it. Let’s play a little like Family Feud. Family Feud is the one where they have to guess. I have data from over 200 managers on this, of the top three reasons why they have waited too long to fire. I have the top five out of the group that I have interviewed. What are some of the reasons why you think managers don’t say goodbye? Let’s see if you get some points here.
They are afraid to confront them.
Yes. Avoiding uncomfortable conversations. That’s number one right out of the gate.
I would think on that list would also be fear of what it’s going to do to that person personally.
I would say that that’s right. Feeling personally responsible for that employee. That would match you. That’s number two. “This person has a family. They have a mortgage.” They put their personal life ahead of the companies.
Three is who’s going to replace them? Who’s going to do their work?
That’s number four. Lacking a backfill to replace the struggling employee. You are killing it.
I’m a hall of famer at this point. Tell me about the others.
Number three is justifying the investments, some cost fallacy. We put a lot of time into training this person. Let’s give them a little more time.
I wouldn’t have gotten that one because I’m over that.
Number five is ego. I’m going to fix them. I can fix them. I think this would resonate with you. As a new manager, you look at an employee’s failure. If I have to fire this person, that means I’m a shitty coach or manager. I hired wrong. I’m not good at motivating. A lot of new managers take it personally when someone’s just not a performer.
That was a little bit of me. I had a lot of these with Al. One of them was, I don’t want people to think of a bad manager so I should be able to fix Al. With enough attention and effort. I can get Al selling again. No, I couldn’t. Al needed to get Al selling again, not Ian doing it for him. That was a big part of where I screwed up on my first one.
I don’t think I would have gotten the two that I didn’t immediately get because I’m so far removed from being new at this. Optimism and those things are universals for me at this point. The fact that new managers would think that absolutely, I understand that completely.
Another question I have for you as an experienced manager, because this is a question that I get a lot. I had a conversation with a young manager that is going through my program. The question that she asked is, “How do I know if now is the right time?” What she wants to know is, “How do I know if I’m doing the right thing? How long do you give a person before you make a decision?” That’s a very subjective question and probably a subjective answer. I’d be interested if someone asked you that question. How do I know if I’m doing the right thing and how do I know if I have given them enough time?
The answer to number 1 starts with number 2. If someone isn’t clearly communicated to ahead of time that they are not doing the right job, it’s not quantified and broken down for them what a good job looks like, you aren’t properly managing that person. If you are firing someone and it’s a surprise, it’s most likely a reduction in force.
If it’s properly managed, there’s communication around it first. The conversation that we had at the beginning of this show or the conversations I have had with people is not the first conversation someone has had with that employee about their performance and their fit, those types of things. The way it starts and how do you know you are giving someone enough time to me, comes down to clearly having expectations of what the job entails. Does the person have clarity around that? That usually is a couple of verbal conversations.
The verbal conversations, if handled properly, will calibrate that employee and get them performing. If it needs to be escalated, the next step after the verbal is written. “We had these conversations a couple of times in the past on this date and this date. We talked about these three things that you are not doing. These are the type of things that are effort based that we think you can fix.” It’s written. If you have verbal and written, and then you still don’t have someone who’s doing performance, that is the normal process for having the appropriate conversation for firing. That’s how I would handle that and that’s how I would think that works.
That’s a very direct approach. A very direct answer and that’s a very experienced manager you are reading to right there that is confident in themselves and knows what performance looks like and has seen it enough to go through it. The one thing I like to do when someone asked me a question like, “How can I be confident I’m doing the right thing? How do I know if it’s time?” I ask a series of questions of people.
When a manager comes to me with that, like all coaching, I usually ask a lot of open questions, but I will go through the questions that I typically ask. Do you understand the root cause of the employee’s poor performance? Is it training or skillset? Is it skill or will? Do they have an attitude problem? Were they performing before and the performance fell off? Did something happen in their personal lives?
Do you fully understand why they are not performing and how much of it is they don’t have the talent? That’s an open-ended question. Is the employee fully aware that they are failing? Have you been crystal clear and for how long? If Frank and I were having a real discussion on that, that wouldn’t have been our first chat.
It would have been months of me saying, “Frank, come on. You are not doing a good job on this. Survey scores are saying that you are scoring terribly on our social media post.” I would have a bunch of data to give him, which I don’t have, unfortunately. I’m stuck with Frank as my cohost. He’s stuck with me.
Are they fully aware that they are failing? If you fired them now, would they be shocked, outraged, and pissed off at you? If the answer is yes, you have failed them. If you are to the point where you are asking me, “Should I fire them?” and you think they’d be shocked to hear our conversation, you are failing them as a manager. It should not be a surprise.If the person you are firing from your team is shocked, outraged, or pissed off at your decision to let them go, you have failed them. Click To Tweet
I didn’t think about this until now, but it’s worth bringing up. When you look at the education system in America, I don’t think we teach the right things. We teach History, Science, and Math. We touch teach nothing about nutrition. We teach very little about saving money. We take financial wisdom. We don’t teach any of those things.
How to open a beer bottle when you don’t have a beer bottle opener? You can use your teeth or the top of a door.
I do that at home. I don’t use a bottle opener or never open Topo Chicos. I try and open with everything else. It’s fun.
Just to annoy the shit out of your wife.
That’s great. Why are you using that plate? I’m going to see if I can open them.
Every high school kid should learn that.
The other thing that doesn’t happen in business training is they don’t teach you how to performance manage, and fire. They don’t. It’s an inevitable thing. It’s an inevitable part of the business and there’s no training for it. There’s so little forward. They almost look at you and say, “Why didn’t you know that you need the fire this person?”
Most people have inherent good and they want to see the inherent good in people. It’s one of the biggest fallacies of new managers is, “I can manage this person to better performance.” Why aren’t you taught in the very beginning, you are going to confront people who need to be let go? It isn’t a failure on your part as a manager. It’s just part of the job. It’s a normal thing.
No one ever had that conversation with me. No one ever explained it. It showed up in my lap and I had to come to terms with it on my own. It’s like how I built my savings account. No one ever told me about it. It’s like they are fundamental skills that are missed. It’s missed because people don’t want to confront. They don’t want to confront things that can be nasty or not positive, but you have to talk about that upfront.
I also think it’s because their manager was never trained on it.
No one’s good at it. No one’s got the skill.
They bumble it all the time. We worked at a Fortune 500 company with a CEO who never fired anyone. He sent Madigan to fire everyone for him. He didn’t want to do it. It’s an unpleasant part of his job. If you were getting fired, Madigan was coming to talk to you. That was it. He had an HR like it was his hatchet man. We are very impressed with this CEO but he didn’t do it. It was part of the job he decided wasn’t important.
As an example, the same guy you mentioned, Madigan. When I was 24 years old, Madigan taught me how to interview. Madigan explained to me the stock options. Madigan taught me so many things. I was very far removed from him. I had a passing relationship and he still taught me a bunch. He never taught me how to fire. He never told me the right process.
He was the one guy who was so good that the CEO relied on him. He never taught a class or course. We never confronted it and said, “Firing me, showing up is the worst possible thing. How do we keep people in the boat? They already work here. How do we talk about performance management? How do we get to a point where we can avoid this conversation?” It was never dealt with.
It’s interesting you say this. Week twelve of my management class is about how to fire someone. What words do you use? How do you do it? How do you handle it? How do you think about it? I went and studied all kinds of management classes. I went and studied all the ones online. I looked at all the ones you could pay for before I built the one I had just to see what’s the competition and what people talk about. It’s interesting you are bringing this up. The firing was almost never in any of the classes. It was supervision bullshit, soft HR stuff. There was not a lot on this topic.
That might be a reason why a lot of people didn’t do it. They don’t know how to do it. They hoped the person leaves. More questions asked, did this person have all the same chances and opportunities as the other people who are performing on the team? Did you give them as much time as other people who were hired with similar skills when they came in?
Was the opportunity that they had equitable? There’s a lot you can delve into on that. Did they have the same resources and training? Does the employee demonstrate that they care? What are their actual behaviors? Do they care? Are they trying to get better? Are they actively coachable? That goes a long way on whether I have stopped trying with you or not.
Is the employee willing to change or are they not likely to change? Have you at least documented the areas and shared with them the areas where they are not performing so they know objectively what the problem is? Is the employee negatively impacting the rest of your team? Is their staying with the company bringing down the overall performance of the other nine people who are their peers in the office?
This is one of my favorites. If the employee walked in and gave you notice and said, “I’m quitting,” would you fight to keep them? Would you ask them why or would you try to get to stay? Would you privately fist pump underneath your desk if this happen? If the answer is you would not fight to keep them, what are you waiting for? If you imagined your perfect team, would this person be on it?
I love that question. That’s the old, “Are you settling for okay when you are being tasked with being excellent?” Would this person’s output be simple to replace with another hire? Would it be easy to replace their output production? My last one is, “Are you starting to have pretend conversations with this person in the shower?” When I start talking to myself in the shower and Jenny’s like, “What’s that?” I’m like, “I’m having a conversation with someone that should have happened two months ago. I know it’s been too long.”
Those are good things you should ask. There’s also the other side of this which is when you have a performer who needs to go. If I said to you that you have someone who’s performing but you know you need to fire them, what does it usually come down to of why that person needs to go?
There are two things that I look for in an employee. There are two questions I ask. Are they performing or are they not? Are they a good cultural fit or are they not? That is not my unique thing. This is very much a Jack Welch, the famous CEO of GE. He was big on this. He said, “Draw an X and Y axis and you got four boxes. They are one of four things. They are either performing culture fit, pay those people, and promote them. They are either not performing and not a culture fit.
That’s a mis-hire move fast. They could be not performing but great culture fit. You might have him in the wrong role or you should spend some time investing in what the problem is if they have got all the other behaviors you look for, and then there is the top performer who is a bad culture fit for the company, and he was very big and that person’s got to go.”
With that person, Frank, I would still ask the same questions. Does the top performer know that they are on thin ice because of their behavior and that you don’t value their performance so much that they have tenure no matter what? Have they been told, “I love your performance. I can’t stand the way you are getting there. You are driving the team nuts, and it’s not good for my team overall and your behavior needs to change?”
Have you given them that shot across the bow, fired a cannonball over their bow, and said, “You got to change your behavior?” People do change. Sometimes you shine a mirror at someone and they are like, “People think I’m an asshole. I don’t want that,” and they change. Normally they don’t. Normally they will get better for a while and slip back. If it continues to happen to where the team is grumbling and doesn’t want to work with that person, you have no choice but to move on if you care about your business long-term.Some people learn to perform better, only to slip back after a while. If this continues to happen and negatively affects the entire team, you have no choice but to move on and fire them. Click To Tweet
This is something that comes about later as a manager. I talked in the beginning about when you have these conversations. Sometimes when you have the wrong culture fit, it doesn’t deserve a chance. I will be blunt with this. We started a property management division. I had someone here for a while who was the wrong culture fit, but the results were incredible, and I put up with it for about a year and a half.
It was torturous for everybody else but we put up with it. We hired a replacement for this person and about six months into their tenure, it started going south, but I was no longer a startup. I had four other employees in that department whereas before I only had one. I had to make a tough choice before because I didn’t have anybody else. I didn’t have people who could do the job.
Now, I have a whole department of people. I can look at the head and say, “I can have this conversation. I don’t think this person’s going to be honest.” If this person isn’t going to be honest with me, I can’t have an honest conversation with them and I don’t trust them because I have got a lot of data sources that say, “I shouldn’t.”
Because of that, I have someone who can do the job but isn’t a cultural fit. That’s the one time when you don’t give a lot of warning. You have to make a big-boy decision as a manager and say, “I have got to pick the whole over the parts, and for the whole entire company, this is the right choice because it makes us healthier as a company to eliminate.”
It’s a very hard conversation. These are the ones where I’m talking to myself in the shower. My wife is like, “What are you talking about?” I told her this was going to happen, and she’s like, “These days are still hard for you?” I go, “Yeah. You are ending someone’s job. It sucks.” Hopefully, this is one of the worst days this person’s ever going to have. Hopefully, they don’t have such a tragic life. It’s worse. These are one of the moments in your life you remember and it’s serious. When you sit down with someone and you have a conversation to hire them, you don’t start with, “Someday I’m going to sit in this room and fire you.” That’s not where you want to get to.
When you get there, you got to take it seriously, but this is what they don’t teach and train you on. Sometimes you got to say goodbye. Sometimes you need to do the writeup plan. I can give you a conversation. This happened a while ago. There were three people I was going to fire the same morning. One person walked into my office and I sat across from him. I looked him in the face and I said, “In this folder are your termination papers. I don’t want to give them to you. Should I?” He goes, “You might. I’m not doing a good enough job.” I was like, “Why are you saying that to me? I don’t want to let you go but at this point, this is your last warning. That’s it.”
This person tries, great attitude, does a good job, and it was impossible for me to let the person go. On the other side, it was the performer who didn’t deserve to be here. One of the reasons they don’t teach and train this is because it’s hard. Sometimes it’s a gut feeling. People are always afraid of getting sued. It’s not easy but this is one of the things that you must do to run a good business or to be a good manager.
It comes down to timing. There are different reasons someone might not be a culture fit. For me, culture is a collection of behaviors of a collection of people. It is the norms that are important around here. The leader sets the non-negotiables. Good leadership is telling people, “Here’s how I expect everyone to behave as a team around here. Here are the things that I expect from you. If you fall out of line with this, we don’t need you because I’m trying to build something here that works.”
Any good coach would say that. Any good coach would say, “No performer is more important than the team. If you get out of line too much on this, I expect you to hustle. I expect you to practice hard. I expect you to pick your teammate up off the ground. No one’s too important. If you do those things, your ass is on the bench or you are off the team.” That’s good coaching.
One area that I think I would move on much faster than anything is integrity. If I don’t trust you, it’s hard for you to go on a performance plan to get my trust. I would feel like you are going to be trustworthy while you think I’m watching you and that’s it. A shitty teammate is one that I would move on fast. One where the whole team is like, “That guy is bad. He’s bad for this office. He is not good.” Those are two areas where I would not be patient. I would be surgical and quick.
Those two areas were what? Bad teammate.
Bad teammate, not trustworthy, and no integrity.
This is where it gets easier. Firing sucks. It’s always going to be hard. If it’s not hard, you need to quit and go be a shepherd. This is complicated and it sucks. It’s awful, but this is what gets easier. If someone fits into one of those two buckets, has bad integrity, and is no longer a good teammate, that conversation is easy because it took so much work to get here. For my company, for any company, if you have someone that’s in those two boxes, they are disrespecting what it’s taken so long to build and they are disrespecting the other people who work here. That’s the easier conversation because they have to go.
They made a choice that got them there. You tell your story, but it’s worth us going to omissions commissions on this because that integrity is a choice. I choose to sign for this customer to hit my bonus for the quarter even though it was illegal. I chose to do something with my taxes that were fraudulent. These are choices that you made. You earned me getting rid of you because if I keep you now, I am now in compliance with you. I’m in cahoots with your shitty integrity and that’s going to wear off on me at some point.
That’s exactly right. I explain it to you. You will probably do. Why don’t you explain what you think is the difference between omissions and commissions?
We were talking about this now and how the two of us look at when to fire and how we teach it. Frank brought an interesting way of looking at it to me. His way of looking at it as there are omissions versus commissions when there’s a performance issue. The majority of omissions are usually on the leadership team.
An omission is, “I had a lack of resources. I had a lack of training. My software was broken and my training was lousy. I didn’t have available management to help me and bring me along. There’s no onboarding program here.” Those are omissions by a company. An omission is a lack of something and omission could also be an omission of talent.
Frank and I were joking. If somehow I got a fifteen-day tryout with the Lakers in 1999 and Coach Phil Jackson was like, “I need you to box out Shaq,” I could have all the great cultural and behavioral things that you wanted in the world. I’m not boxing his big ass out. He’s knocking me all over the floor. I’m going to the hospital probably if I try to do it. What I would have no mission of is about 100 pounds, a foot and a half of height, and talent.
You couldn’t put that on the leadership team, Frank, that I couldn’t do my job. I would be failing, but the omission would be an innate skill. I’m using an obnoxious example, but we do that all the time. We hire someone who doesn’t have the mindset to be a good accountant. They are not organized. They don’t have the skills. You train them all you want. You give them all the tools. They are a bad fit. They are deathly afraid of talking to people. They are as far on the introverted scale as you can get and you are asking them to cold call. That’s an omission too. It’s not necessarily their fault. I would put that on leadership. You did a bad job of selection for the position versus commission.
With omission, 90% of that is on the company or the leader. At my company, I take responsibility and if I didn’t do it, 90% of that is on my management team. It’s 1 of those 2 things. We hired the wrong person. We didn’t give them the right skills. We didn’t give them the right tools. We didn’t give them the right things. That is an omission.
A commission to me is a conscious choice. If you think about commissions in the standard, a commission is a mission that’s given to you. It’s a task, project, or order that’s given to you, and you have the skills. You have the talent and resources and you chose not to do it. It could be as simple as our hours are 8:30 to 5:00. That’s when customers walk in the door. We run a bank. I need someone at the teller at 8:30 when the first customer walks in and you start walking in at 8:45.
The mission is very clear. It is a mission that is within your power. Get your ass to work by 8:30 and open the doors and be there for the first customer but you chose not to do it consistently. That is a commission. You chose to fail in that regard. Dress code, when Frank and I were talking about it, I kept coming back to the same movie, Saving Private Ryan.
The mission was to go get Private Ryan, bring him back safely, and get him back to mom because his four brothers already died in combat. They could have got out into the wilderness that was the only mission. How they did it was up to them. They could have got out there because they were all conflicted in that movie, “Why are we doing this? We are losing guys. This is dumb. Why is one man’s life more important?” They could have chosen just not to do it, and they would have all been court-martialed because they didn’t follow and go finish the mission however it was possible.
Omissions and commissions. Omissions are largely on the company. Commissions are choices that you are making. Choices to not be a good teammate. Choices to be disrespectful to management or to your teammates. Choices if you are told that you are supposed to be bringing in twenty new leads a week by working the phones and you are not prospecting. You are only doing ten. That’s a choice. You chose not to do what we asked because we have already determined that that’s possible.
Other people are doing it. Frank has a salesperson he’s had to be very direct with because he cherry-picks his leads and it’s driving Frank nuts. Frank is saying, “I’m giving you a lot of good leads and you are cherry picking, and you are not closing at the same rate you are capable of.” That, Frank, would be a commission because that’s a personal choice, which is why you are looking at your commission plans to see, “Am I paying right for the missions that I’m asking for?”
To wrap this up, it’s this. Firing sucks. The best way to not have to fire is to hire the right people to have the right outline and the right job description to start for people to be aligned on what is and what is not expected. The commission stuff is the order. That’s the company culture. That’s what we will stand for and what we won’t stand for.
These people that we have been talking about now treated the customer like shit. They would badmouth them when I wasn’t around. It was toxic. I don’t think me having a conversation with them was going to change the way they felt. It would have changed when they said it. It was one of those things that were so deeply ingrained, I had to say goodbye to it.
That’s the one where you have to act fast. Stop that for a second. Most people who read this work for big companies. When one of Frank’s salespeople treats a customer like shit, that’s like Frank treating a customer like shit. They are getting an email from someone at Cava Companies with Frank’s dad’s name in it. We talk about this all the time. That’s not one I’m going to put up with too long if I’m Frank.
That’s not one we are going to have a lot of in-depth conversations of, “I wanted to talk to you about something. It seems like you are treating our customers like shit.” I’m not going to have that discussion. I can imagine it was very blunt, “I’m pissed off at you right now. I shouldn’t have to explain, be nice to customers when you work for a company.”
The way this happened and I’m thinking about it more. I did have a conversation with one of the people. There was an incident and, in that incident, there was a recording. Everything we do is on Voice Over IP so we have recordings. We went back in and we looked at the recording, we listened to it together and it was pretty shitty.
I asked. I said, “Given a chance to do this again, would you do it differently?” The answer was no. Not I would probably come talk. It was a no. I knew right then that we weren’t aligned and that we were never going to be aligned. It was time to make a swift decision, which is something you learn with twenty years of management. In 2004 when I became a manager, I wouldn’t have felt that way.
You wouldn’t have felt that way when you were a four-person team because when you lose someone when you are a four-person team, it’s pain. Without having the replacement, it shuts you down for a while. You end up doing it. I do want to say something about this. Frank, let go of someone who was a 4 out of 5 but was bad culturally for the team. What I will say is that takes way more confidence.
I’m sure if you are reading this and say that you are like, “Of course,” most people don’t do that. Most people don’t have the courage to go fire a performer that is not good for the team in the long-term because so many companies measure their managers so short-term, quarter-by-quarter, month-by-month, and you feel this constant pressure of, “I’ve got to perform,” that you end up putting performance above all else.
The problem is if you were to allow a 4 or a 5, they are even more dangerous than someone not performing. If you were to allow a 4 or 5 to treat customers like shit and treat their teammates like shit, and then you got up in front of the whole company at your annual meeting and say, “It’s important to me that we are all great teammates and we treat customers amazing.” What are the rest of your employees think if you are not doing anything about the ones who make money for you, but don’t do any of those things?
I’m out of integrity and I’m most likely going to turn over somebody who’s good.
They don’t trust you now like you are full of shit. You are empty words. Whatever Frank says, take it with a grain of salt because as long as you can sell, all he cares about is money. That’s not what you are trying to build. That’s not sustainable. That’s sustainable if you are trying to sell in three months. That’s not sustainable if you are trying to grow a company for the next ten years. If you are stuck on this, one last question I would ask you is if you are a manager and you are not sure if you should go, I want you to think about my first experience and being forced to go fire Al, which was embarrassing me because I didn’t have the guts to do it.
A lot of times people think about, “They have got bills to pay, they have got a family, and they have got kids.” If you sit long enough and you let someone not perform long enough, at some point, someone above you is asking the same hard questions that you should be asking about that person. If you let multiple sit, your performance goes down. You miss quotas, you miss metrics, and all managers are paid on is getting better results, your overhead.
If you don’t make the company more profitable, faster, and better quality, if you don’t do those things, there’s no point in having a manager in the first place. You have to understand that if you won’t knock on that person’s door and make it clear that they have got to get better or get rid of them and find someone better, someone will knock on your door as a manager.
That’s hard to think about. The last thing I will say on this is the manager I was talking to last time was young and never fired anyone. I said, “I’m going to ask you a question. How long have you been going to this whatever hair salon where you get your haircut? It’s a service you pay for. How long have you been going same solace?” “About five years.”
“If that stylist absolutely butchered your hair, just one bad haircut, would you find another stylist?” She smiled and said, “No, but I would tell her this is bad and it’s got to get better.” I said, “What if she butchered it twice? You have now gone three months looking. You are embarrassed about how bad your hair looks. Would you go back a third time?” She was like, “Absolutely not. I wouldn’t fire her though. I would never go back. I would ghost.” I said, “When it’s your money, you give someone two chances and you are out three months.”
Your money and it’s a direct reflection of you.
You look silly. It’s embarrassing, but it’s your money that’s firing someone. That person’s livelihood counts on you showing up every month and getting a haircut. You would move that fast, but now we are talking about seven months of a guy not performing for you, back and forth, up and down, but it’s someone else’s money, so you are tied up in all these other reasons.
Everyone’s always like, “Manages are evil to fire people.” We fire people all the time. It takes like one shitty pizza and I’m never ordering from your pizza place again. When you think about yourself as a consumer, we fire companies on a regular basis. You just don’t use them again. How many bad experiences at a bank do you need before you like, “Screw this bank. I’m going somewhere else?”
This happens all the time. When we become managers, we feel like it’s a direct reflection on us now that if we fire them, somehow, we are bad people, but the truth is it’s their fault. Their job is to go get results. They were told that when they started that the contract between an employee and a manager is, “You give me a certain outcome and you do it in a way that fits our cultural norms, and I give you money.” That’s no different than getting your haircut or ordering a pizza. You give me something of value. I like pizza. I give you money.
An employee is no different. There are more laws and complications around it, but it’s that simple. It’s the employee’s job. Once they have been trained, you have been clear, and you have set expectations, it’s their job to keep the job. It’s their job to perform and to do a good enough job, and if they can’t, it’s not your fault as the manager. It’s time to let them go. You have got to say bye and you have got to find someone. If you can answer that question, would it be easy to replace this person’s performance? You have to make that move. That’s how teams win.
I don’t think there’s anything else to add to this. Firing is hard, but it’s part of the job. In the end, it comes down to this. If you are not willing to fire someone for the betterment of the company, someone’s going to walk down to your office and fire you because you are incapable of making that move.
For all of you that are worried because you can’t live without Frank and me, we were playing around. We were joshing with you at the beginning. I couldn’t fire Frank if I wanted. I’m too big of a softie. I would like to see your performance go up a little bit though. There were a couple of long delays where you weren’t ready for your normal color commentary. I want to put it out there that I’d like to see you raise your game a little bit.
Please send it to me in an email so it’s formal and handwritten.
Frank is like family. That’s a whole other episode. You can’t fire family. He’s stuck with me. I’m stuck with him. That’s the way it is. If you are stuck with us and you haven’t given us a five-star review, shame on you. Make it happen. If you are new to us, smash that subscribe button. Frankie, good seeing you.
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