When (and Why) Should You Fire Someone?
Firing someone for the first time is to this day one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.
It’s one of those things that every agency owner has to go through at one point or another.
And it’s never easy.
The way I see it, there are two reasons to fire an employee:
One is performance-related.
To be honest, this one can get complicated to work through. While it’s out of the scope for this article, I recorded a podcast with more thoughts and details that you can listen to here:
And the other reason to fire someone is based on culture.
Your company’s culture is a critical factor in scaling an agency that can stand the test of time.
That doesn’t mean going for drinks after work or playing table tennis at the office.
It means that it’s your job and your responsibility as the founder/CEO to foster, protect and maintain it as you grow.
And, like a king that oversees the borders of its kingdom, the first step to guard it is to decide who enters and who doesn’t.
What you can do to prevent having to fire employees:
Ideally, every individual that comes into your organization should embrace and add to your company’s culture.
You know… ideally. But you and I know that won’t happen.
There are a couple of things you can to filter people out during the hiring process, but it’s no guarantee you’ll get it right 100% of the time.
What’s worked for us:
- A culture fit interview during our hiring process.
- And having clearly defined (and top of mind) values that you live by.
Again, when I say this is what’s worked for us, I don’t mean we’ve found “the perfect solution.”
There still had been (and will be) situations where we face this issue. But it has helped minimize the number of times this happens.
What should you do when an employee doesn’t fit your culture?
I get it…
I get it can be tempting to keep an employee that just KILLS it in their role, no matter if they don’t fit the culture or even if they negatively impact it.
But after seven years of running a business (plus dozens of experiences with firing people), I’m telling you, it’s NEVER worth it.
In fact, you will actually lose more money in the long term by keeping them.
When someone repeatedly does not live up to the company’s values, and you don’t do something about it, you are thus tolerating AND accepting that behavior.
You’re telling the rest of the team that it’s okay to be toxic.
You’re telling them that short term revenue is more important.
In short, it means your values don’t matter at all; they are just something you wrote on a piece of paper and forgot about.
When that happens, toxicity will begin to slowly spread to the rest of your company like a virus — from that one person to the rest.
Look, I don’t like telling people what they should or shouldn’t do. You’re ultimately the one who makes the decision.
But I’m making an exception here:
Don’t do it.
Don’t put an employee’s performance above your company’s core values.
I did it many times. And it slowed us down a ton long-term.
Now, maybe you tell yourself things like:
“But they bring us so much revenue.”
“But we will lose clients if they leave.”
“But we can’t find someone as good as them.”
“But, but, but…”
Look, I’ve told myself all the excuses in the book. And what I’ve found is this:
The stories we tell ourselves about what will happen if they leave or why we are justified in keeping them are just that, stories.
You can and you will find a replacement.
When should you fire someone?
Look, I’m not saying you should go and fire someone the moment they do one little thing that’s not aligned with your business’ culture.
Everyone makes mistakes. Have a conversation with them about it. Give your employees the opportunity to learn from them.
Hell, I know that even I’m not perfect…
There have been times when I didn’t live up to Jakt’s core values.
That’s why it’s not just you who was to keep everyone accountable as the owner. All members of the team also need to play that role too.
But accountability starts at the top.
So you have to be the one setting the example.
If someone’s repeatedly offending your culture, and it’s clear it’s negatively affecting people, then you know what’s your role as the guardian.
But firing based on culture should not be rocket science.
If you implement clear expectations for culture from day one and have regular check-ins and reviews to give feedback, there shouldn’t be much of a problem.
And if someone fails to live up to the company’s core values, you can talk with them and keep an eye on their progress.
Even more, ask yourself if they have the potential to change.
If you believe that’s not going to happen, well, then they don’t fit in the business.
And that’s not to say they are bad people.
It might just be that the rules you established were not the right fit for them.
You’re actually doing them a disservice by keeping them.
Because if it’s not working for the company, it’s probably not working for them either.
The more time you debate on the decision, the longer your business suffers and the longer they are not taking an opportunity elsewhere where they do FIT in with the culture.
So you’re screwing your team, your business, and even yourself in the process.
As the founder/CEO, you get to dictate the rules of the game.
I don’t want to compare it to a dictatorship. It isn’t.
But the thing is, you are the one who has the final say on whether someone gets to stay or not.
If you believe someone in your team is negatively impacting your culture, you decide if they stay or not.
And so… you’re the one who decides if the ship pivots and corrects course or sinks.
3 Takeaways on firing when there’s no culture fit:
- As the CEO, you have to be the guardian of the culture. It falls on you to monitor your employees, see how they perform, and watch if they are a negative influence on the company.
- Don’t put an employee’s performance above your company’s core values. Toxicity will spread to the rest of the team.
- The stories you tell yourself are just that, stories. If an employee’s not the right fit, you’re not doing them a favor by keeping them. If it’s not working for the company, it’s probably also not working for them either.