Ugh. Firing someone never gets easier — but keeping these tips in mind can make it go as smoothly as possible the first time around.
I’ll never forget the first time I fired someone. She was the first employee I’d ever hired at Know Your Company. And she was someone I’d looked up to since I was 19.
At the time, I remember the realization hitting me: “Wow, this is the first time you’re going to fire someone, Claire.” The dread, the panic, the sick pit-of-the-stomach feeling hit me hard. Since then, having done it a few more times, I will say letting someone goes never gets easier. But there are a few things I wish I would’ve known earlier:
Carve out time to prepare.
This is not an off-the-cuff conversation to be had. I find it best to thoughtfully write out what I’m going to say, concisely and clearly, so I don’t accidentally say something I don’t mean to. Here are some tips on how to deliver the news of letting someone go. I also spend time contemplating what the person’s reaction might be. While you can’t control for it, at least anticipating how they might react can help you prepare and be mentally ready for an emotional outburst or harsh words thrown your way.
Don’t overlook logistical details.
Don’t forget about the logistics involved when you fire someone. Keep track of what company property they have, what systems they have access to, and how you’ll handle those items. Best practice tends to be that all property is returned and all access is revoked immediately — but there may be exceptions in your case. (For example, perhaps you want to give the employee a chance to publicly say “thank you” to the company via email). Lastly, consider who else should be in in the room. Depending on the size of your company, having a third party or HR representative is typically a good idea.
Loop in legal.
Potential legal fallout can catch you off guard unless you’re prepared. Make sure your company’s legal counsel is aware of the situation so they can make sure your bases are covered. Don’t assume otherwise. Even if it’s an employee you’ve trusted for years, firing her or him will change your relationship instantly. I’ve seen other founders and managers get caught in compromising situations because they failed to have a conversation with legal before letting someone go. It never hurts to be on the safe side.
Remind yourself: The other person has it worse.
No matter how you frame it, this isn’t going to make the person feel good. Accept it. Don’t try to sugarcoat or over-justify your decision. You’ve made it, so own it. The worst thing you can do is saying something like, “I wish I didn’t have to do this” or “This makes me feel terrible” — both are insincere statements. Be direct, get to the point quickly, and don’t linger in the room afterward. Mind their privacy and pay attention to their reaction. Word travels fast among employees, so how you handle this first firing can set a tone within your team.
I know I’m not alone in my distaste for these cringe-worthy types of conversations. For more on this topic and other leadership tips, visit our Knowledge Center.
P.S.: If you enjoyed this piece, please feel free to share + give it 👏 so others can find it too. Thanks 😊 (And you can always say hi at @clairejlew.)