How to fire with dignity?

The first time I fired someone, it was a debacle.

Why it matters: I was as subtle as a sledgehammer. My lack of finesse – and dignity in delivery – earned me an F.

The Backstory: It was early 2007. John Harris, one of our co-founders of Politico, and I decided we had to let one of our early employees go.

  • We called the man in and I recited all the things he was bad at – and told him it was canned. The poor man didn’t see it coming.
  • Afterward, Harris turned to me, “Um, I’ll handle the firing from now on.”

The takeaway: We weren’t wrong about the man’s performance. But we goods wrong about how we handled it. Over time, I have radically reshaped the way I thought about letting people go.

First the obvious: Nobody wants to be fired or fired. It sucks.

  • But here’s a cold, hard truth about running a business: Sometimes you hire the wrong person for the wrong job at the wrong time.

you have to act the moment you realize it cannot be corrected. Otherwise, your company or team will suffer and stagnate.

  • One of the biggest mistakes managers make is rationalizing and not making the right move.

There are ways to do this with grace and class:

  1. No surprises: By the time someone walks into a meeting to be fired, it should be clear to everyone what is going to happen and why. This is where candor is most important: if you’re giving or receiving unequivocal feedback – and clear instructions on what needs to be improved and on what timeline – the end should be clear to everyone.
  2. Do not wait: So many people duck into hard, awkward discussions. It’s a terrible way to deal with people. Anyone who falls short of expectations needs to know with complete precision why – and what they should do to improve.
  3. Be merciful: Most people don’t get fired for theft or scandal. It is usually not the right fit or season of life for the company or individual. Be clear and direct, but don’t explain too much or get caught up in a point-by-point debate. The outgoing employee must take the time to listen, learn and correct themselves.
  4. Be stylish: One trick to alleviating the pain — and stain — of layoffs is to give the person time to leave on their own and find another job from a strong position.

It comes down to: Now that we practice this approach, we’ve had people later on thank us to let them go, and how it was handled.

🏁 Editor’s Note: This article appeared in Axios Finish Line, a new newsletter in the Axios Daily Essentials package. Sign up for free here.

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