The 5 W’s of Firing and Expert Advice from Fellow Entrepreneurs

We’ve been doing a bit of SEO spring cleaning and came across a post about what to do when it’s time to fire someone. I’d answered the question and then opened up discussion to the tribe. The feedback was incredible. I wanted to share the “best of” from the comments and add a few more thoughts to the topic.

Firing a team member is never easy. Next time you’re facing the task of termination, here are 5 questions to answer and expert advice from fellow entrepreneurs:

Before you pull the trigger, make sure they’ve seen “the smoke before the fire.”  – Eric Dingler

Here is what the preceding time should look like:

Joe, your performance in the area of ___ is really suffering. What can we do to improve that?

Joe, you are still not up to par in ____. We’ve been working on it but I still see no improvement. What can we do differently?

I’m giving a written warning that if ___ does not improve by ____, we will either have to find a new seat on the bus for you or let you go.”  – Matt McWilliams

Take time to reflect on your own leadership and ask yourself, “Am I considering termination because of what they can’t do or what I haven’t done?  – Greg L. Gilbert

Remember, it’s your job to make your team successful, not the other way around! (tweet this)

“The deciding factor is, ‘Is this the right job for him and is he the right person for our business?’ If the answers are ‘No and no,’ then you will feel relieved when you let him know that his services are no longer needed. He will feel relieved to not be in a job where he is not happy.”  – Lily Kreitinger

The 5 W’s of Firing:

  • Who are you firing? If it’s a team member, it should be incredibly tough to terminate that person since it’s someone that you decided to become responsible for. Make sure you’ve considered every angle of the situation before pulling the trigger. If it’s a contractor, have you covered every base? If it’s a client, have you done everything you can to resolve any conflict they have? Have they treated one of your team members disrespectfully without provocation? Not every client is right, and not every person needs to be your client. If the client doesn’t fit, you must uhhhh…quit the relationship. (See what I did there?)
  • What is the situation? Make sure it’s an issue, not a personality style conflict. If it’s an issue, have you done everything you can to solve the problem as their leader? If so, and it has continued, have they been warned repeatedly with a clearly defined plan of action to follow? Make sure the plan of action includes overstated consequences for not following the plan. Is there at least one formal writeup in their file?
  • Why are you firing? First, make sure you are not responding with anger. Give yourself plenty of time to cool down if possible. Use the KRA and outline past discussions. Is it a lack of integrity issue, like stealing? If so, use the phrase, “Don’t let the door hit ya where the good Lord split ya!” Or maybe something more professional like, get out!
  • When do you fire? Fire the day of for several reasons. First, they’ve checked out and won’t work hard. Second, it reduces the liability for sharing private company information, taking clients, etc. Third, there’s no reason to hold on and only stress yourself out. If you’ve done everything you can, and you know you’re in the right, get it over with.
  • Where do you fire? Bring them into your office, make it private and drama free. Never EVER fire someone in front of others. Not only is it just mean, it will also cause your team to lose respect for you. Nobody wants to be treated that way, and they will fear that you will do it to them someday as well. “Whatever you do, do it with love and respect. Treat him as you’d want to be treated in the situation.” – Mark Sieverkropp

A few more questions to consider are:

  • Is there a severance package?
  • How will you inform the team? Like I outlined above, make it drama free. Don’t create gossip or spread rumors and don’t allow your team to gossip either.

I like to use the phrase… ‘freeing someone’s future.’ I think part of our job in running organizations is helping people find their place of success. If they are not successful with us, then we need to help them find a place of success.”  – Dennis McIntee

Question: What are your thoughts when it comes to firing?



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Meet Chris LoCurto


Chris has a heart for changing lives by helping people discover the life and business they really want.

Decades of personal and leadership development experience, as well as running multi-million dollar businesses, has made him an expert in life and business coaching. personality types, and communication styles.

Growing up in a small logging town near Lake Tahoe, California, Chris learned a strong work ethic at home from his full-time working mom. He began his leadership and training career in the corporate world, starting but at E'TRADE.

19 thoughts on “The 5 W’s of Firing and Expert Advice from Fellow Entrepreneurs”

  1. Along with point 2, is to make sure they were giving clear expectation of what was expected of them. We need to make sure they are properly aligned with the mission. If not, they might think they are doing a great job, because they are succeeding at the wrong things.

  2. Chris, I’ve heard you say it several times, and it’s something that I always come back to–it should NOT be a surprise to the person when you decide to let them go. If you’ve done it right, you’ve been communicating and working with them prior to the decision, they know what is expected of them…and they know that they aren’t meeting expectations.

      1. I think this is tough for leaders because it requires you to have the difficult conversation several times…and you have to stick with what you’re saying. It’s easy to tell someone they’re fired, send them out the door and never see them again–it’s much harder to tell someone that if things don’t change they’re going to be fired…and then see that person in the lunch room…and work on a project with them…and pass them in the hall…and STILL stick to what you told them.

  3. I learned good lessons on this from my dad. He had a leadership position for many years and when he had to let someone go, he framed it from their perspective. He gave them a powerful and solid talk about vocation, being true to yourself and finding the right fit for your skill set instead of being there for a paycheck. At the end of the conversation, people thanked him and it made the transition easier for both.

  4. Pray and seek guidance from others.

    I’ve “only” had to fire five people in my life. The first two were done in anger and on my own. I had no plan for anything. They went awful.

    The next two, I sought counsel, prayed a lot, developed a plan for how to do it, how to inform others, and what the following two-six weeks would look like. I also made sure HR had a list of candidates ready.

    Unless it is a serious offense (like the 5th person I fired when they made an egregious error in judgment…I’ll leave it at that), take your dandy time.

    “Hire slowly, fire quickly” gets one part right. I agree with the premise of not keeping someone on board for too long if they are causing problems, but try to avoid situations where you let someone go and find yourself in a pinch afterwards.

  5. This post came at a very welcome time, as we’re considering firing one of our longest-term team members this month. She has been with us for 15+ years, and we all love her dearly as a person. But, over the last several years as our ministry has grown leaps and bounds we’ve found that her fear of change is not only causing her to be ineffective in her own job, but is also holding the rest of our team back. Thanks for some great questions to consider as we walk through this process…

    1. Since you used the term “fear of change”, I would assume she’s a very administrative personality style. If so, is she in the right seat on the bus? Maybe relocating her to something that fits her better, might help the ministry out. If she had a job that was the same every day, and you needed that, would that solve the problem?

      1. Great insight! Yes, she does so much better with tasks that are predictable and where there is only one way to do them, so over the last few months we have transitioned her into an order processing role that provides much more structure. While she seems to enjoy doing this work, her fear of change is still exhibiting itself – she verbally expresses her mistrust for leadership and decisions made, she is very critical of new team members who work differently than she does, and she will not willingly collaborate with other team members because she feels that doing so will result in her job being eliminated (which often results in her being over hours on her timesheet). One of the more frustrating aspects of this process has been that, while I have had several conversations with this team member over the last six months, and each time I have laid out the same issues and expectations, I do not feel that she clearly understands them…

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