In my years of experience in the C-suite, I've met and worked with every kind of personality out there, from big and brash know-it-all executives to quietly confident managers who fly below the radar -- and always get the job done.
But I've never known anyone who likes to use the "f" word.
Not that "f" word. The one I'm referring to here is "fired," as in, "You are."
Even Donald Trump, who has added to his fame and fortune by making "You're fired!" his catch phrase (something I have first-hand experience with from my time on "Celebrity Apprentice") doesn't always relish the idea of letting someone go.
One of the most authentic, radically transparent people I know, Trump didn't get to where he is today by playing small, avoiding risk, and hoping things will get better. And as a change agent whose job it is to overhaul your company in a way that is massive and measurable, nor should you.
No matter what business you're in, the key to your success will always be the quality of the people on your team. From your front-line foot soldiers to the back-room strategists, in order for your company to succeed in the cutthroat world of business, you have to know that every one of them is ready, willing, and able to go the distance with you.
If not, it's time to fire the dead weight and hire new blood. It's easy to say and hard to put into practice, but it's crucial to your success.
In my bestselling book, "Running the Gauntlet," I talk a great deal about the importance of changing a mood of a company as a necessary first step towards changing its culture.
And integral to changing the mood is making sure you've got the right people in place.
Avoid firing people, and you might as well try to teach a pig to kiss
Anytime I'm invited to speak to an audience of C-suite execs about turning around a company, effecting massive change, and reaping the financial rewards that come as a result, I always get a chuckle when I liken holding onto employees that no longer fit in with the vision you have for your company to teaching pigs to kiss. As I point out, you can do it, but it's a messy job.
And it really pisses off the pig.
It's far easier (and a lot cleaner) to get rid of those employees who aren't working and trade up for talent that will. This involves identifying those who can't (or won't) change as well as those who don't believe that they need to change in order to be successful, and then firing them.
You hear talk all the time about how hiring the right people is an art, and there's a lot of wisdom to that statement. But the flip side to that coin is the art of firing those who can't handle the course to success you've charted.
If you're not there already, chances are good that the time is coming when you'll need to make some tough decisions about who to keep on and who to let go. Like others in your position, you might find yourself hemming and hawing over your decision, finding every excuse in the book to avoid actually taking action.
These excuses run the gamut, with executives citing everything from the high cost of searching for new talent or the effect of unemployment on insurance costs, to the fact that deep down, they are holding out hope that with a little bit of help or retraining, under-performers will somehow change to become star employees. And then there's the fear of making a mistake in firing someone and the fear of how letting people go will make the company look to those on the outside.
Yes, yes, yes. Blah, blah, blah.
The truth of the matter is, if someone's not a right fit, they need to go. Yesterday. When I've had to make personnel changes, once the dust has settled I have never felt I made a mistake in firing someone. In fact, more often than not, I often think I should have done it sooner.
It's a dirty job, but someone has to do it: Three steps to firing with confidence
If the writing's on the wall for some of the employees at your company, now's the time to take immediate and decisive action to trim the fat and make room for new talent.
Yes, it's a dirty job, but someone has to do it. If that someone is you, use my three-step process for making the job as painless -- and effective -- a proposition as you can for all involved:
Be clear on your conditions of satisfaction first
No matter what your battle plan for success is, or who it involves, a necessary first step is that you get very clear on your conditions for satisfaction, and then share these with your team.
These are so important to your company's success that I spend a considerable amount of time on the subject in both "Running the Gauntlet" and my earlier book, "The Mirror Test." Without clearly defined conditions of satisfaction, you miss out on a few key ingredients to success:
- You won't be able to sell your endgame to your people.
- You won't have a prayer of tackling head-on those feelings that often blind your people to the fact that change is needed -- or to the reality that it's time for some of them to move on.
- You won't have any way of pinpointing what your desired end result looks like or knowing whether or not something is working to keep you on track.
When you align your teams around the company's conditions of satisfaction, you build a foundation for success. Those that get your vision will serve as a cornerstone for that success; those that don't, won't. Identifying and sharing your conditions of satisfaction brings into focus who falls into these categories, making it easier for you to decide who to keep and who to let go.
Gather feedback from the rank and file
One of the easiest ways I've found to identify who's pulling their weight and who's dead weight in a company is by asking your best employees. As with everything else, there's an art to this (you don't want your employees to feel like tattletales). The best approach is to ask them honestly and to let them know that what they share with you is in confidence.
I've found that asking trusted employees for this kind of information not only makes the process that much more fool-proof (how often have you had someone come up to you after you've fired one of their colleagues to confirm that you made the right choice?) but also empowers your best people who are honored to have earned your trust.
And I don't know about you, but those are exactly the kind of people I want to go into battle with, confident that they've got my back, just as I've got theirs.
Stop thinking about "why not," and act!
My friend Miles Young, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide's CEO, once told me that whenever he sees anything that's not working in business, the first thing he does is to take a look at the people around the problem. "Things don't break by themselves," Young said, "they get broken as a result of negligence or mistakes."
Once you've laid out your conditions for satisfaction, you know where those conditions aren't being met, and you have identified the people around the problem, as Young puts it, it's time to take action. No more beating around the bush, thinking of all the reasons why not to let someone go. A company can only move as fast as its lowest common denominator, which means if you're going to succeed, you've got to let go of those who aren't cutting it.
If firing people isn't your thing, get someone to do it for you. However you go about it, get it done. Nothing negatively affects a company's morale like employees who aren't a good fit, and chances are those who need to be fired already know that they're the odd man out living on borrowed time as it is. Giving them the push out the door into something bigger and better won't just improve the performance of those who stay to build the company; it could be exactly what the person you've let go needs in order to grow.
Give your company a fighting chance to succeed
There's an old saying that goes, "An army marches on its stomach." These days, while you might not literally be leading troops into battle, you are waging war on a battleground of sorts: the marketplace.
This means that your army feeds on trust and empowerment. And if it's going to march at all, it's got to march in unison.
Fill your rank and file with those who share your vision and are ready and willing to follow you into battle, and fire the others. In doing so, you'll give your company the fighting chance it needs to succeed on today's battlefield.
Jeffrey Hayzlett is a global business celebrity, TV commentator, bestselling author, and sometimes cowboy.
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