I'm a new manager and I'm in need of advice from managers with more experience. I lead a team of five, and my boss told me to fire one of my directs.

I was promoted from within the team, so the direct I will be firing is a long term co-worker and friend. Any tips on how to handle his termination?

He is being terminated because we don't really need someone in his position. With him gone, we'll have room in the budget to hire someone new. My boss and I don't feel that assigning the to-be-terminated employee to a new role would work, because we know he doesn't have the right skill set and work ethic.

Any advice would be appreciated.



tlhausmann's picture
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...just to be clear, your boss has explicitly directed you to terminate an employee as opposed to giving you the opportunity to coach or develop this employee. Is that correct?

There are a few casts you may wish to review;


There isn't enough information in your post to offer sound counsel. For example, to what extent has this employee already received feedback about their work performance and/or received formal notification they are performing below standard?

allenlthompson's picture

  Thank you for the response; I'm listening to those now. I realize I didn't give enough information in the first post. Your assessment is correct. I can't go against my boss's decision, but I disagree that the termination needs to happen. There has been almost no feedback for this employee, because his role has been a bit nebulous. With multiple structural reorganizations, he's been "orphaned," and fallen into my department. In hindsight, I should have taken charge and coached him on meeting expectations. Like I said, I'm new at this. We are at a similar pay level, and he also has "manager" in his title, so I haven't been doing one on ones with him, like I have my other directs. Hopefully I'm summarizing this complicated issue well enough (and realizing all the mistakes I've made with him up to this point). I want to handle this well, so he maintains his self-respect, and so that the rest of the department doesn't lose morale.  

mattpalmer's picture

This is one tough spot you're in.  I work on the principle that you can delegate everything *except* the people stuff, and it's yet to let me down.  You suggest that your boss is essentially doing this to you, and wants you to do his/her dirty work.  If your boss makes the decision that someone needs to go, your boss should (in a perfect world) be making that happen.

However, I don't think you *actually* disagree with your boss' decision.  My gut feeling is that you just don't want to fire this person because he is "a long-term co-worker and friend".  Unfortunately, that's part of the job.  Managing people also, sometimes, means having tough conversations with them about their performance, including termination.  It's not a fun task, but it is a necessary one for the organisation as a whole to be effective.  If you think you could handle it in general, but can't handle it with someone you consider a friend, then you need to recognise that, and make sure you don't manage anyone you consider a friend.  That means removing yourself from this role, analysing who you'll be managing in the future before you take on that job, and strictly avoiding becoming friends with any of your directs.

As to why you think this person should be fired, we'll look at what you wrote in your opening post.  First up, you wrote "we don't really need someone in his position".  OK, fair enough.  It happens.  It isn't that this person isn't effective in their job (which is something that could potentially be fixed with coaching and feedback), it's that their job doesn't exist any more.  Well, a company isn't a jobs program, it's a profit-making enterprise, and part of that "profit-making" is making sure that everything (and everybody) makes more revenue than they cost.  It's brutal to talk about people as "costs", but they are.

When someone's job is no longer required for the organisation to function, you normally try and move that person into a new role that they would be suitable for.  Providing re-training and moving people around before you hire from outside is the polite and humane thing to do.  However, you wrote "I don't feel that assigning the to-be-terminated employee to a new role would work, because [I] know he doesn't have the right skill set and work ethic."  I read that as meaning that you don't feel that there is any place in the organisation for this person.

That leaves you pretty much out of options.  If someone has no place in an organisation, then they're out of a job.  Go forth and fire them.

I don't think you can make the assertion that you have, though.  You've only just started to manage this person.  You haven't been doing one-on-ones with them, and you presumably haven't been doing any of the rest of the trinity with them.  How do you *know*, then (not "suspect", or "think", or "wonder", but *KNOW*) this person does not have, and cannot have, the right skill set and work ethic for *any* role in your organisation?  Your observations as a peer of this person are largely irrelevant, because they've been made from a very different perspective to that of this person's manager.

I recommend changing your thinking.  Don't make assertions without evidence.  You don't *know* that this person doesn't have the right skill set and work ethic (or at the very least that you can't help them to develop it).  Instead, work from the basis that you would like to keep this person in the organisation, if that is practical, and that you are willing to provide whatever assistance you can reasonably provide to help this person into a new role in which they can work to the organisation's benefit.  That will also require this person to do work, too -- develop and/or demonstrate a suitable work ethic, learn a new skill set, and so on.  If you do all *you* can, and they don't keep up their side of the bargain, I'll tell you from personal experience that it is then a *lot* easier to fire someone with a clear conscience.

I don't know what sort of relationship you have with your boss, so it may not be practical to explain this and get your boss' approval to try and turn this person around into a valuable member of the organisation.  If your boss is adamant that this person needs to be fired, and that you need to do it, you can either gird your loins and do it, or you can refuse, resign, burn a bridge, and find another job.  If you do it, you'll have a constant reminder for the rest of your career why it's important to (a) not manage friends, (b) be up front about what a job requires before you start it, and (c) be constantly talking about performance and coaching your team (so you don't end up in this position of being forced to fire someone when you have a guilty conscience about not helping them).

If your boss *does* agree that you can try and keep this person (hopefully with some sort of objective goal and a deadline), then the hard part *really* begins.  You need to have a full and frank discussion with this person about their performance.  Explain about their current position being redundant, and how you're happy to work with them to grow into the new role, but that they need to commit to working to change things.  You'll need to know precisely what the new job you're giving them involves (I like to write lengthy, prose/story-like job descriptions with three headings: Responsibilities, Personal Attributes, and Skills/Knowledge).  Identify specific examples of behaviours that you have used to characterise this person as having a poor work ethic, and tell them that these behaviours need to change as well.

After such a conversation, your job might be made a lot easier by this person deciding to leave.  I wouldn't count this as a win, but it's probably a draw.  Don't ever play for a draw.  That's cowardly.  But be frank and don't leave this person in any doubt that they will need to work hard to learn the new skills and change their behaviour.  Unfortunately, lacking a foundation of the relationship built through one-on-ones, you'll have a harder time in this conversation than you would otherwise, but if life were meant to be easy, it wouldn't be nearly as much fun.