When It’s Time To Fire Someone

Here’s a great question I received through the blog about what to do when you need to let someone go.

I am a veterinarian and have an associate I am planning on letting go. He is very nice and great with the team, but his medicine is not in line with mine, he hasn’t taken a leadership role and avoids confrontation at all costs. I will be letting him go mid-January and am planning on giving him two months’ severance pay. Should I tell him ahead of time and let him continue working or let him know he’s fired the day I let him go?

Any advice would be truly appreciated. I have been struggling with this decision for more than a year. – Anonymous

Hey Anonymous,

I wouldn’t say anything until the day you let him go. Once you do, his heart will leave. Therefore, his butt should as well. 🙂 I’m so glad you’ve been struggling with this as opposed to it being easy. It shows your heart.

If you’re firing him because his medicine isn’t the same as yours, great. If it’s because of a lack of leadership or confrontation, I would suggest to you that it’s about personality style. He loves people but can’t handle conflict. Therefore, if he can get his medicine is in line with yours, I would keep him for the day-to-day team member work and not give him a leadership position.

What would you tell our friend? 



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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.

50 thoughts on “When It’s Time To Fire Someone”

  1. How are you with conflict? Have you told the associate about your concerns? I have a feeling that you haven’t. Otherwise, why a year long struggle? Why anonymous?

    Myabe you have, but if you haven’t:

    Confront in love first, fire last.

      1. I heard how police handle bad situations:

        United States: “Freeze! Don’t move! I’m warning you!” BANG!
        Texas: BANG! “Freeze!”

        (*Disclaimer: I don’t know if this is true about Texas, but I don’t know if I want to find out!*)

        1. I am a high D so I have a propensity to “Ready, Fire, Aim” actions.

          That is great when making snap decisions on a $1000 purchase of new keyboards for IT. Not so much when dealing with people’s livelihood.

          1. Same here. I used to treat my “staff” as replaceable. My thought was, “I hired you, I can fire you and hire someone that looks just like you to replace you….heck…I’m so good, I’ll probable hire someone better than you this time.” Yep, I was a jerk.

          2. Yep.

            What I finally learned that kept me from acting this was “people are actually very hard to replace.”

            In a very selfish way, it sucked having to place ads, do interviews, hire, and then the real fun began…

  2. As Todd asked, have you openly and completely talked to him? Is he in a leadership position, but not fulfilling it? Or is it an expectation that he is to become a leader? Has he been given training, resources, and time to become that leader?

    I don’t really like conflict either, and I had to get over some hurdles (probably have a few more to jump, too). I had to realize that it isn’t right or fair to avoid the conflict. There will always be tension if it’s not resolved. Maybe the other person doesn’t even realize what they’re doing. I also had to realize the purpose of the confrontation. If I can clearly see why it has to be resolved, it makes it a little easier to do. This associate may need some help and coaching to learn how to deal with conflict.

    The time, effort, and money put into helping him will be worth it in the long run. You could help him make great changes in his life that will alter his course for the better. You are able to make him a better and more loyal team member.

    1. Joshua, as a former employee, I have always resented getting chewed out for something I didn’t know was my responsibility in the first place. You are right – it isn’t fair!

      So, perhaps it is best to think of these situations as “conversations” rather than “confrontations” or “conflicts”. It changes the attitude of the whole event for both participants.

  3. First question: Does he know these things?

    Does he know that his medicine is not in line with yours and what have you done to correct this?

    Does he know that you’ve expected him to take a leadership role and that his not taking it is problematic to you? Is it really that problematic to you? Some people are not meant to be leaders and are still incredibly valuable for the skills they do bring.

    Does he know that his inability to handle confrontation is a problem?

    What have you done about these things to help him? Offered training?

    Just throwing those out first.

    If you have repeatedly and the point is not getting through, you certainly need to make a tough decision. Personally, I would make it clear first that failure to improve will cause you to have to fire him. If he doesn’t think you are serious, his firing will come as a surprise.

    As Chris has said, no one should ever be surprised that they are fired. DON’T SURPRISE HIM.w

    If firing is the right thing to do, by all means do so on the day of. Have his severance ready and, if this is your first time or a particularly tough one, practice in advance.

    I had to fire a guy for whom I had been his best man once. I was not prepared for it at all. I lost my cool and after a minute, froze up. Our HR director had to handle the rest. I wish I had practiced.

    1. Matt, I’m confused. (So what else is new?) How do you tell someone they are fired that very day and it NOT be a surprise? Is it because you have been letting him know all along that he isn’t measuring up?

      1. Yep.

        If someone is truly surprised (assuming they are not just naive) that they are fired, you really screwed up as a leader. REALLY bad.

        Before someone is fired, 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.”

        See where I am going with that?

        I’ve done a surprise firing or three in my day. And I have had it happen to me when I was much younger.

        It’s stupid. It’s nothing more than confrontation-adverse pansies pretending to be leaders when they’re not.

  4. I relate to the telling someone you are letting them go long before you do it. I was told that they are looking for someone to replace me at my supervisor position, but I am to keep doing the job until they find someone. This is the first I heard of there discussion. I had no warning, no counsel , nothing. This really took the wind out my sails. I have built a great team.

    1. Oooh, Rich, that is horrible. It would make me want to quit in the worst possible way, like opening a competing business and taking all the team and all the customers! Hope you are more mature about it than I would be. Looking forward to hearing how that turns out for you.

  5. Great advice on the comments. Here is my red face test question; “Am I considering termination because of what they can’t do or what I haven’t done?” Another way to say it is “Have I done what I SHOULD so they can do what they CAN?”

    I also agree with Chris on your struggle. The quickest way to improve an organization is to identify the person(s) that make it too easy or too difficult to terminate a poor performer. Once they are identified, terminate them. I recently worked with an organization that terminated no one for anything and the person that convinced leadership it was not worth the potential liability to terminate someone had been retired for five years. No one every questioned why. Good luck.

      1. Sanctioned incompetence is a cancer! It is one of my biggest “pet peeves” at work. I’ve seen people get away with all kinds of things, and then someone gets written up for one small mistake. Makes no sense to me! There are either rules or there’s not.

  6. You’re getting tough love from commenters today, Anonymous. From your question, I can tell you are similar to your associate in terms of avoiding confrontation. You hate the conflict of having to let him go. I can also tell you’re people-oriented and value relationships “he’s very nice and great with the team”.

    Granted that you have done what the others have said (training, coaching, changing his level of responsibility, facing the situation directly in an open conversation), 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.

    From what you’re saying though, I think this may not be the case. If he’s a great person and great with the team, he may just need a different role. Serve him as a leader by helping him figure out where he can best utilize his talents, with you or elsewhere.

    Oh, and before you have any conversation with him, pray about it. Things will go much better.

    Let us know how it turns out!

    1. I couldn’t have said it better Lily!

      I see it quite often where leaders believe that they only have two options left; deal with it or let him go. However, more often than not, when ultimatums are presented, people can change.

      In the case of the medicine not being inline, unless it’s a moral issue, most likely this person will bend if he knows what’s at stake. This is where being too nice get’s you in trouble as a leader.

      Of course as far as being in a leadership position, again you may have the same issue. Just from what I’m reading, it’s not clear that much effort has been put forward to set expectations for the role he’s in.

      Either way, this is where a good old heart to heart needs to come first. This person should already know that there’s a problem long before any decision is made.

      I would also suggest a copy of Entreleadership for sure – and maybe a daily reading of Matt McWilliams blog. 😉

  7. Wow, Lily’s right!! Tough love. Here’s my thought, I see the point that all the commenters are making, but at the end of the day, you really do have to do what is best for your business.
    I think I would take this next month and do some real soul searching, asking the questions that Matt and others have mentioned. But like Dave teaches, set a day to make a decision, whatever it is, and when that day comes, make the decision and don’t look back.
    Whatever you do, do it with love and respect. Treat him as you’d want to be treated in the situation. I appreciate your intent to give two weeks severence. What else could you do to make the transition easier for him and his family?
    It’s a tough situation and I think all these suggestions, from Chris and from the Tribe are relevant and should be considered.
    (hows that for a non-committal response, ahah. Seriously, what more could I add to the great comments previous to mine??)

  8. Well put. Thank you Chris.
    As the EntreLeadership book puts, do it using the golden rule.
    Maybe there is some training. A year is a long time and maybe the person has felt it a bit. So bigger picture wise is either train or cut the cord. Maybe even a book/material to that is encouraging and helpful if this a friend.

    K, bye

  9. In my opinion, you have to determine if the key issue lies with the medicine or with the lack of leadership potential. I’d also ask myself if I had clearly laid out the medicinal guidelines when working with this person. If not, then you may need a candid conversation before termination.

    I was in this spot where I was let go two weeks after I had a very positive review. I had absolutely no clue this was going to happen. Everything told to me was a complete surprise. If you have had conversations about the medicine and this is the reason you are letting go, then it’s totally justified. If it’s about the fit or leadership, take a day or two in order to see if there’s any way this person could still be a valuable team member.

    You may still make the decision to let this person go, but you’ll do so with a clear understanding if you follow these items.

    1. I agree Dallon. Medical guidelines need to be apparent. If the associate is insubordinate then that is reason to let him/her go.

      Great points.

  10. I agree with Chris and Matt that if you decide to let him go, the day you inform him of it should be his last day. If he were to stay on another week or two, not only would his heart not be in it, but it would be humiliating for him to be there—the whole staff would know he’d been canned. If you trust him not to go postal, it would be a gracious gesture to give him some privacy and time to collect his belongings, make copies of any personal files he has on the office computer, and so on. Hovering over him as he packs his framed vet school diploma and photos of his children into an Iams box would be another kick in the stomach.

    If you’re certain this is not the right job for him, I believe it’s a kindness to let him go, even though he won’t be able to see it
    that way when it happens. Rich, maybe in time you’ll come to see your dismissal as having been a blessing.

  11. Do you have this position’s Key Areas of Responsibility outlined in writing? If not, you might consider asking this person to write down what he thinks his role is; you write what you think the role is; the two of you compare notes and start the year off with aligned expectations. If you own the practice, he may not be leading because he doesn’t want to step on YOUR toes. If everyone loves him, consider trying to work it out with the EntreLeadership steps. No use upsetting the clients or other staff if it can work. Good luck!

  12. I would send him a txt letting him know he is fired. Kidding!

    Unfortunately I let go of a few people when I was the manager of a bank. It is never easy, but as long as you have followed a plan then the employee should see it coming.

    First, make sure you have discussed and documented the issues with your associate. I would have also came up with a game plan to help him/her improve their leadership skills and come up with a medical guidelines the doctor should follow. This plan should then be reviewed with the employee to check progress.

    I would have to question if this has been done because in my experience employees who are not willing to make changes typically quit after a few months of written documentation.

    If there is no improvement or the employee is insubordinate, then I would fire him/her after two to three performance meetings. Just thank him for his/her service, tell him it was a hard decision, but you have to let him go. It will be awkward for a few minutes, but you will be better off without him.

  13. I’m sure others have mentioned the same word of advice but definitely let him know the day of. Coming from a sales background, this is common practice. If someone knows they’re getting fired, their effort is cut in half and they’re a liability to spread company information. In the medical or veterinary profession, you certainly don’t want someone giving half-ass effort when it comes to a person/animal’s life.

  14. I’m all for letting him go but have a question for Chris. You said you should basically let him go the day you let him know he’s fired.

    While he’s getting a severance package, I think he should be given a bit more of a notice. You wouldn’t want an employee to up and quit on you with no notice, why let an employee go with no notice?

  15. I agree with the others in that if you’ve had multiple conversations about expectations and responsibilities, and he still isn’t measuring up, and you have also made clear if this doesn’t change then that will happen, he needs to go. I do wonder why you are waiting until January? If you have already made up your mind, why wait?

    My feeling would be if you haven’t been clear on the expectations, then start getting clear and give him a chance to change. If he is good with the team, then maybe things can be salvaged. I hate confrontation too and like to think the best of people, but there comes a time when you have to do what’s best for your business.

  16. I have to agree with most everyone else on the principle of whether you have allowed him to correct behavior and whether this was documented. Have you lead him well? If all attempts have been made, then it is time to separate. Please avoid “management speak” like “We are going a different direction.” Be forthright and honest while compassionate.

  17. I couldn’t agree with Matt McWilliams more. When reading the question from anonymous, the main thing I thought that was missing was the listing of any attempts to inform this person about the problem before attempting to fire him.

    Whereas the person posing the question can clearly see where the associate is wrong and is not stepping up in terms of leadership, he or she is falling short too by not having the uncomfortable conversation with his staff to get them in line with organizational goals. If he or she has talked to the associate, and the change is absolutely necessary but the associate doesn’t comply, then you move forward with taking steps toward letting them go. However, letting them go does not mean that you’ll get exactly what you want. The next person may come in and use the same medicines, but they may be horrible with the team, or their bedside manner may be lacking (is it bedside manner when it comes to pets). Evaluate the pros and cons before moving forward.

    I can not emphasize more the need for managers to be the things that they want to see in their people. Being a manager is more than just receiving a bigger check than everyone. Your associate may not have stepped up to leadership, but if this issue that they are about to be fired for isn’t something that has been addressed before, neither have you in this case.

  18. 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. It’s not fair to that person to keep them with us if they will never truly be successful. If you’ve already had a conversation regarding the objectives that haven’t been met and they truly don’t have the capacity to fulfill the role, then why wait?

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