I fired someone to get my first real leadership role


At the age of 28, I got my first real opportunity to lead a team.  I had been a people manager already for 4+ yrs, managing smaller teams but this was the first time that I would be solely responsible for the successes and failures of 24 individuals.  You're never really prepared for all this role entails until you're the one actually sitting in the chair.  However, there are a few important tests that you can do to prepare yourself.  I actually recall my old VP asking me to do this before I could actually takeover a team.  What was it you say?  I had to fire someone.

No joke.  There was no real interview for the role as I had the required experience to take on the role.  They had been grooming me for years, so I had the benefit of working with great managers who I learned a lot from.  But the final test to see if I could cut it was to fire someone from my existing team.  It's not like we chose someone randomly, we had actual cause to let go of this person.  In this case, it was related to sales performance issues as this employee was definitely not suited for a sales role and had consistently missed her quarterly targets.  She was given every opportunity to succeed through coaching support from myself and team members, but she just didn't get it and we didn't see any improvement.  

You can’t help those who can’t help themselves

So step 1 was already in process.  I had been coaching the team member more frequently and documenting those coaching sessions.  During those meetings I would also provide candid feedback (or as they like to call it in tech "radical candor").  The expectation had been set out early on that her performance wasn't where we wanted her to be.  The last thing you want to do is fire someone without any warning or any opportunities to at least try to improve themselves.  There's a big difference between going through the motions to actually following through with the "I'm going to have to let you go" conversation.  I had been quite honest with my expectations of her and how she was not meeting those expectations.  But I also began to help her self discover if a sales job was even something she wanted to do.  How does this job help you get to where you want to get to in your career?  Why did you want to do sales in the first place?, etc.  She wasn't a bad person, it wasn't personal, but I could just see that she didn't enjoy the sales role or was as hungry as my other team members.  This reflected on her poor sales and poor customer service.  The toughest part was that she herself had blinders on and couldn't see my perspective and thought she was doing a decent job, thought her customers all loved her, etc.  I had slowly started to chip away at that narrative through the weekly coaching sessions where I would provide the critical feedback.  

On the day I decided to let her go and give her the paperwork to sign, the 15 min meeting turned into a 1.5 hrs conversation.  She was providing excuses, shifting ownership for her lack of results, crying, etc.  But I held steady and kept my composure and just laid out the facts that I had been documenting throughout the process.  

This was really the best option for everyone, although she may not have seen it that way at the time.  For me it was a valuable learning experience that I've used time and time again.  Not the having to fire someone all the time thing, but the ability to have this these tough and uncomfortable conversations with people.  Only with radical candor can you be an effective leader who is able to give feedback to employees to help them learn and be better.  

Stephen BehComment