Leadership Perspective: Five Action Steps to Consider Before You Let Someone Go

by  Georgia Feiste  |  Leadership Development

None of us like to terminate another’s employment. When an employee is causing harm to the organization or is just not doing the job they were hired to do, ultimately you may have to let them go. Before you take that step, though, make sure you have completed these five action steps to a solid employee/employer relationship.

Even before you hire an employee, share the organization’s vision and mission. And, if the organization has taken the time to lay out their values, it’s important that those be shared as well – both officially stated and unstated values that are pervasive throughout the organization.

As the hiring manager, you should also share your core values, allowing the prospective employee to see who you really are. Hiring a happy and productive co-worker is the goal here, and if they cannot align their values with the values of the organization and the department they work within, they will find it difficult to maintain their focus.

Common Purpose. When working within a department or a team environment, not only must the employer and employee pay attention to whether or not their values are in alignment, it is also immensely important to describe how the purpose of the department supports the vision and mission of the organization.

Conversations must be held regularly with staff to get their thoughts and ideas around working closely together in moving the department toward accomplishment of the purpose by setting robust and intentional goals. If all are focused on the common purpose, creativity and excitement will be their daily environment, and success will be achieved.

Set expectations. From their first day on the job, it is absolutely critical that your new employee know what your expectations are for their specific job, and how you would like to see them interact with their co-workers. When they know exactly what is expected of them, they are more able to follow through with results.

What we are doing here is narrowing the funnel of understanding for the employee. They now know the vision, mission, values and purpose of the organization and how the department/team supports them – often by setting its own vision, mission, values and purpose jointly as a group. By working with the employee to set expectations for their specific job, they will recognize and appreciate how they support the organization, the department, and their team. You have helped them create alignment.

The more detailed and clear you are during this process eliminates ambiguity and confusion, and your employee is able to focus on the successful completion of the job. The ultimate goal here is to focus on performance with quantifiable goals, whether you work in a for-profit or non-profit organization. These goals should be specific to the purpose of the job, measurable in both hard and soft skills, using subjective and objective measurements, attainable by the employee based on their strengths, talents and skills, realistic and time driven.

Let’s talk about the time driven requirement for a moment. Because reality changes so very quickly, sometimes in the blink of an eye, I believe that overarching goals should be somewhat flexible, with significantly more specificity set each quarter. This does two things – it allows for recognition that the environment changes, and when you are not completely in control of all steps of the process, it offers an opportunity for dialogue and a method of changing an end target.

On the other hand, without a semi-permanent target date for the entire goal to be met, it is possible to have too much opportunity for slippage. Therefore, more specific sub-goals (for lack of a better word) should be set at least quarterly, if not monthly, to help keep things on track.

Hold everyone accountable, including yourself. Once an employee knows what is expected, and is well-trained, they must be held accountable. You can’t let concerns slide, even when a blunder might have been a mistake. The first time they don’t hit expectations, sit down and talk to them. Let them know how much you care about them, talk about what happened, and spend some time asking questions and coaching the employee.

What you are doing when you take the time to really talk is choosing to examine the reality of the situation. You are seeking truth. Did the employee, co-worker, or even your boss, make a mistake or was it a choice? Make sure you don’t make any assumptions, and know the facts.

The important part here is that you also hold yourself accountable. You are part of the team, and are not exempt from being aware of your actions and performance as a leader. This requires that you be willing to examine whether you are hitting the expectations set for you from all of your constituents – including those who you supervise.

Relationships are key. In my mind, there isn’t one problem that can’t be resolved when we communicate honestly, authentically, and openly. When you have hired the right people by taking them through this process, trust, mutual respect, and open communication is built naturally. And with this comes strong relationships, creativity, personal accountability, and success. And, with success comes results – financial, professional and personal – throughout the organization.

Once you have assured yourself that you have taken all of these factors into account, and your employee is still not performing, it is time to talk about the risk of termination, and why they are facing this solution at this point. Go on to ask them these questions:

  • What do I not know that I need to know regarding your performance?

  • Do you feel we are aligned in mission, values, and purpose?

  • Does this job fit your strengths?

  • What are you hoping to accomplish in this position?

  • What are you willing to do about your performance within the next two weeks that will allow me to retain your services?

  • What help do you need from me?

If the employee knows that you care, you have done all you can to help them, and you treat them with respect and dignity, even having to let someone go can be a powerful and positive experience.

What action steps have you employed as a character-based leader when you have had to let someone go?

What’s Next? Please leave a comment below to join the conversation…

About The Author

Articles By georgia-feiste
Full Bio Coming Soon

What People Are Saying

Scott Danielson  |  26 Jun 2012  |  Reply

Since my company focuses on improving communication skills, this article really hit home.

In particular, I think making your expectations clear is exceptionally important. Vague critiques like you need to get this done faster or this needs to be better don’t explain how to improve or the desired output.

Excellent article!

Georgia Feiste  |  09 Jul 2012  |  Reply

Thank you for your comment, Scott.

Jon Mertz  |  26 Jun 2012  |  Reply


The conversations are essential, as you point out. But, then the time comes. There is a split in the road, and the person needs to take a different path. It is “easier” to let them stay and muddle through. It is more challenging to “push” them in a different direction.

I had this happen recently. The person was not a fit for B2B businesses. The passion was more for B2C. Having the tough conversation led to a departure. As tough as it was, this person is now working for a consumer-based company and is likely much happier in the work.

If we are to be character-based leaders, then we need to stand up with honesty, grace, and firmness to resolve any team member challenges.

Great steps to consider. Thank you!


Georgia Feiste  |  09 Jul 2012  |  Reply

As you point out, Jon, the joy of being a character-based leader is knowing that you have worked well with the person you are supporting – your team mate – and when the time comes, you are able to have this tough conversation. I have not had to let that many people go over my working life, and it still brings tears to my eyes when I think about how they thanked me at the end of the conversation. Communication is a powerful thing!


JoAnn Corley  |  26 Jun 2012  |  Reply

Georgia – great overview – and this works well if both parties are emotionally mature or as we say in our industry has a decent “EQ”. That’s why I’d like to add one other – have a written tracking system to document your coaching / performance management experience that both you and your team members can refer to. It’s very helpful to have the experience (coaching goals, plans) recorded i in the handwriting or directly sourced by each team member. In all the management training seminars I’ve done across the country this is the one thing missing because so many companies don’t have meaningful performance management plans in place.

Georgia Feiste  |  09 Jul 2012  |  Reply

JoAnn, I particularly like what you said about “have the coaching goals/plans recorded or directly sourced by each team member.” Unless the goals and plans are developed by the person being coached, it is unlikely that they will own them and take action on them. And, until that occurs, it is difficult to hold them accountable to the plans!

For me, that is why current performance management tactics rarely work – employees are tired of the 95% negative – this is what you need to do to improve – and the 5% positive – this is what you did well. It needs to be flipped – working to set goals that the employee recognizes as being in alignment with the corporation, and their own values and priorities. That is a win-win situation.

Thank you for your comment!


JoAnn Corley  |  09 Jul 2012  | 

Georgia – great point – effective performance management is not 95% negative; effective per. mgt. has very constructive coaching & feedback elements (both formal & informal), where the employee feels supported and encouraged as if it’s a collaborative, respectful partnership. That’s the style and method I teach the managers I train.

Kelly  |  01 Jul 2012  |  Reply

This was an excellent post. Without these steps a person would be blindsided.

Unfortunately some people in leadership positions are selfish rather than selfless and a blindside best fits their desires.

Again, I think this is an excellent post to be read by all.

Well done.

Georgia Feiste  |  09 Jul 2012  |  Reply

Thank you, Kelly.

Georgia Feiste  |  09 Jul 2012  |  Reply

Thank you all for your patience, as you wait to find out if I responded to your comments. I have been without internet for a while, and it has been difficult to get everything done from Starbucks! LOL


Join The Conversation