This piece was first published on Forbes Business Council.
One of the most important skills for a CEO is detecting early on who should and shouldn’t be on the team and making those decisions respectfully. Bringing in human resources professionals and implementing their protocols might get parts of the job done, but will they get them done the right way — in a way that’s in line with your company values?
Without working alongside HR to plan policies and processes, I believe you run the risk of giving up one of the skills that got you to the position of CEO in the first place: successfully identifying who will and won’t propel your company forward. If you’re ignoring this aspect of your business — keeping people who should’ve been gone long ago — what does that say to the rest of your team? Why would they do more than the bare minimum when you’re not showing your commitment to excellence through hiring and firing?
It starts with a real relationship.
From the first day of my company, Storemaven, I knew that a defining feature would be how we treated our people, from their arrival through their departure. When I hired my head of HR, I told her right off the bat that I wanted the business to be the best at letting people go. We’re on our way there, but not because we reinvented something (though, in a way, we did) and not because we have a great HR team (though we do); it’s because we’re guided by having respect for everybody who passes through our doors.
Firing shouldn’t be your go-to.
After investing resources in your hiring process, you can only hope that you didn’t give the green light to the wrong person because you’ve now made an obligation; you are tied to them and their success. At the first sign of trouble, you must do what you can to help them improve. For example, maybe they’re not suited for the role itself or there’s tension in the team. Those issues can be resolved with a decent internal discussion.
However, if the situation changes to such an extent that you find yourself considering relieving them of their position, it should be a last resort; they might have uprooted their life to join you, changed their kids’ schools or taken a financial risk. Hiring isn’t a decision to be taken lightly; neither should be the decision to fire.
Naturally, if it’s a matter of fraud, misconduct, bad attitude (this is such a vivid sign that it won’t work) or the like, then there’s no question in removing them quickly and turning back to your hiring process to see what went wrong so you can improve for the next hire. But more often than not, this isn’t the case.
How To Build A Healthy Laying-Off System
1. Don’t hold a constant firing threat over anyone’s head. Casually throwing around the notion of potential unemployment will negatively impact your employees’ feelings of self-worth and business productivity. Psychological safety is paramount; fostering a workplace of human interaction, not fear, means people feel safe to contribute ideas, express themselves and make mistakes without retribution.
It’s your responsibility to breed this environment; when you do, you’ll likely see an immediate improvement in how people communicate and work together.
2. Be transparent from the get-go. Are people surprised when they arrive at a hearing? The answer should be a firm no. If it’s not, that’s on your head; you and your managers are to blame for failing to communicate your reservations. To avoid these scenarios, and to know better how our managers are managing, I implemented a constant feedback system of quarterly open discussions between HR, managers and employees at my company. This system starts the instant a new employee joins and basically never ends.
If you employ this system, ensure you hold your managers accountable. Three months after hiring a new employee, our managers attest to whether they’d hire that person again. We ask hiring managers to refer to their concerns during the hiring process to see whether they were relevant concerns and to try to learn whether we recognized the risks. If managers can’t sign on this employee again, immediately start a review session. If this were to happen to a manager more than once, it would be a red flag that something in their department’s hiring is off, so it’s time to implement fixes to resolve the issue.
At Storemaven, once an employee reaches their three months milestone, that’s it: They’re a “maven.” From this point on, I am every employees’ biggest champion. If anything changes for the worse, the company gives the employee all they need to recover. A good indication for me here is that the few times we went through a recovery process, it worked. People do need to be let go, or they choose to move on themselves, but only after I fight hard to keep them. After all, nobody likes breaking up.
3. Work hard to reduce making wrong hires, and act quickly when you do. This will help ensure you maintain a level of excellence for your other employees and can strengthen working relationships. Your goal should be for everybody to succeed and drive toward growth. By making feedback and constructive criticism the norm, employees striving for their absolute best is the cherry on top.
For a CEO, a reflection of your success is seeing the same faces in the halls. They’re the people you believe are the right ones to grow with you. For them, their self-worth and high work standards will be amplified because you’re constantly setting a precedent of excellence. As hard as it is, cut the wheat from the chaff as soon as you can and only when it’s absolutely necessary. The team will thank you for it.
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