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Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management

How to Fire People

Firing people is nothing nice – for both sides. Although I was never dismissed I can easily imagine what laid off person feels then. I was few times on the other side, firing people and I can tell it’s an extremely hard task for me. No matter how strongly I’m convinced to terminate contract I always feel like I had a hangover when the thing is done.

However there’re some things which can make dismissing a bit smoother.

Try retraining. If you accept to keep working with the person (that’s not always true) try to find her different position. Maybe she’ll fulfill new tasks better. I remember a situation when a person, who was underperforming while being in support team, became great consultant in the implementation team.

Allow employee to resign. It always looks better when you resign instead of being fired. You don’t need to ruin guy’s resume. His colleagues will also feel better, at least if he wasn’t highly toxic.

Tell about dismissal in advance. Sometimes the person tries hard but just doesn’t suit to a position. If you trust her a bit, tell her you’re going to fire her when you find a better candidate. You risk her commitment will peak down but you give her a time to look for a new job with lower stress. She’s not fired yet.

Don’t fire. Nice advice in “how to lay off” list, isn’t it? If you can allow yourself to keep a guy for few months more it’s sometimes a good idea to wait for him until he resigns. With decreased role in the team, low bonus money there’re high chances that he’ll eventually leave. I know some cases which worked that way. Some of them done intentionally, some unintentionally.

Explain why you do that. Always. Face to face. It’s so obvious but sometimes is forgotten. Be well prepared – don’t treat that meeting as an unpleasant duty. She deserves that.

Sweeten the situation. Play into fired person’s hand with things like leave, working hours etc.

Pay some bonus money at the end. Companies are very often tempted not to pay any additional money to people who are fired. Yes, you can save few hundred bucks. But for that bunch of dollars you can earn not only a small improvement in laid off person’s morale, but also improvement of your reputation on the labor market. Besides that if the guy wasn’t fired you’d probably pay him small bonus, wouldn’t you? Don’t be a cheapskate here.

Agree to confidentiality. If dismissed person asks you not to announce the decision right away – agree. That’s another thing which costs you nothing.

Unless Catbert is you personal hero, you can try to make dismissal a bit more pleasant. It pays off because you don’t burn your boats and you earn your reputation as good employer. The latter is especially important now when it’s hard to find great employees in IT because of big demand for workforce.

What are your methods to keep this unpleasant task more pleasant?

in: entrepreneurship, recruitment, team management

10 comments… add one

  • chris July 27, 2008, 7:46 pm

    hiring and retrenching people is very stressful especially if that person didn’t do something bad to the company but it’s need to be done for the company’s stability

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  • Alex September 22, 2008, 9:36 am

    Interesting post. Firing someone is never easy, but sometimes it just needs to be done. I haven’t really seen many articles with these kinds of tips so good job! I also have a blog on project management SantexQ Project Management Blog. Check it out if you get a chance!

  • Pawel Brodzinski September 22, 2008, 11:37 am

    I think it is so because many people treat is as taboo. No one wants to admit he had to lay people off since it means their team wasn’t great or their company had problems.

  • Project Management Form August 27, 2009, 11:13 pm

    Firing people means more than simply saying "hit the highway"…or at least it should. Done correctly, both you and the fired should leave with your dignity intact.

  • Anna February 11, 2010, 1:07 pm

    I don’t think I can agree with “don’t fire”. If you’re laying people off, this is not likely to be an option, so I’m reading this as referring to keeping on someone who isn’t up to the job in the hope that they’ll “get the message” and resign of their own accord. This is just cruel. It’s hard not only for the individual, who may be utterly destroyed by the time they realise they’re being pushed towards the door, but also for their teammates.

    I think most managers have enough difficulty getting to that decision anyway – given the opportunity to put it off, many will do so, thinking that they are being “kind”. Actually, they are being the exact opposite of kind.

  • Pawel Brodzinski February 11, 2010, 3:10 pm


    I’d say it is individual. As a manager you have impact on the team pretty much under control. I agree it can be cruel for fired person to put him in this situation but on the other hand it may give him a chance to look for another job with much comfort (he isn’t formally fired yet).

    Actually I’ve seen it working quite a few times already and it might be cruel only once at most, although I can’t say for sure. Personally I would think about this option only if I believed it will be good for fired person.

    And I never choose an option basing on how comfortable I feel with it. Firing sucks. Always. The last thing I can do for fired person is to try to do it the way which hurts least, no matter how miserable I’ll feel.

  • jenny January 28, 2011, 11:42 am

    Why is the employee due to be fired always a female in these examples. Is our society really that sexist?

  • Pawel Brodzinski January 29, 2011, 3:16 am

    Well, I see both male and female used as examples one after another, which I don’t find sexist. But then if someone is biased, he would always find an argument to support his thesis even if it is neither true nor fair.

  • Anne-Maree September 16, 2011, 2:15 am

    In reference to the above comment, yes, I could see both male and female used as examples.

    I made the fatal mistake of hiring a friend in a satellite office. We are very good friends, I think! However, she is taking advantage and I have so many examples now that I can’t imagine her doing this elsewhere and it must be because we are friends. I now face the stress of putting her off, and losing a friend. We now both live in different countries and I manage remotely, but I manage several satellite offices all in different timezones, and I am really starting to resent that I will have to really micromanage her and monitor her. If someone ‘takes’ a minimum of 10 minutes every single day, that is over a week in a year! On the very odd occasion that I have monitored arrival time, her log in can be anything up to 45 minutes in difference to what I know to be true. To avoid stress, I just stopped monitoring, but still stressful. Any suggestions?

  • Pawel Brodzinski September 16, 2011, 5:08 am

    @Anne-Maree – Such situations are always very difficult to solve. It is because you have two perspectives which contradict with each other: company representative and friend.

    However, as usual it boils down to trust which is, or should be, fueled by honesty and openness. From what you write it seems there is a problem with that. Anyway, I would start an honest discussion with your friend/subordinate. I would openly state what problem I have along with all the doubts and potential solutions of the issue, even if they would sound harsh.

    I would however try to avoid bias meaning both trying to treat the friend fairly but also not assuming that she’s just a slacker. In other words I’d start with stating how the situation looks like and looking for root cause. There might be good reasons why it happens so, like private matters etc. With such attitude you give yourself chances to find what is really happening.

    Then, it’s time to act. If you end up confirming that your friend is exploiting your relation, well, it’s your job as a manger to solve this issue, even if it will eventually affect your relationships. I know it sounds harsh, but if your private relationship was completely healthy you wouldn’t be in this place you’re in.

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