I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not good at firing someone. When I worked at a dealership, the employees all knew when someone was “getting the axe.” About a week before it happened, I went from being upbeat and outgoing to somber and reserved. It was very easy to tell something big was coming down. If you’re an empathetic type, you think about the impact your actions will have on the person and family. It is especially hard if you’ve become friends and there’s a possibility you will see them at community events, the supermarket or, worst of all, at church.
If you’re a manager or owner, you know this. You’ve experienced it. You may have had to let someone go and then lived with the uncomfortable chance meeting afterward or heard that “the spouse hates you” from mutual friends. It’s part of doing business. You’re not there to make everyone happy, but to ensure a healthy future for your business and a good work environment for your people.
Outlining the Problem
A dealership is not like a global conglomerate. Everyone in the building interacts with everyone else and many directly with customers. If you have an employee with a bad attitude, it can affect the whole dealership and bring down the morale of those employees who do have good attitudes. Failing to deal with this person also affects your reputation as a leader. Other employees interpret your unwillingness to deal with the problem to mean you don’t care about your own business.
The first step toward solving the problem is good communication with the employee who is causing issues. For instance, schedule a meeting for Friday afternoon. I always did the tough employee interactions near closing time on Friday to give the employee the weekend to recover before they came back to face their co-workers.
Jack Welch, the former chairman and CEO of General Electric, offered this advice for improving a company: Fire 10% of your workforce every year because their replacements would result in an annual upgrade of the workforce.
Meet with them in a place that is private and outline the problem. Don’t mince words. If they’ve been with the dealership for 18 years and you’ve never said anything bad to them, it will be especially difficult, but it needs to be done. First, tell them what you like about their performance and what they offer that is positive for the dealership. Then, provide specifics about your concerns related to their job performance.
Document your concerns and share the document with them to let them know you are serious about monitoring their future work performance. Have them sign the document, acknowledging that they understand your concerns. It’s up to them to change or you will be forced to take action. Before they leave, ask their opinion and listen to them. Don’t make the mistake of bringing up the names of co-workers or customers who may have complained. This meeting is strictly between the employee and you.
Now, make a calendar note to revisit the issue, on the first Friday about two months from the meeting. That’s the day you decide if they’ve improved or they need to be fired. Often, after the first warning, the employee may be better for a couple of weeks and then revert to their old, bad behavior. It’s important to monitor them closely throughout the time period.
Once the decision has been made, the protocol is the same as it was for the first meeting. Bring them in on a Friday afternoon and tell them, “I’m sorry, but I outlined some changes that had to be made at our last meeting. It is my opinion that it’s in the best interest of the dealership for your employment here to be terminated.”
At that point, you’re done talking. They can yell and scream, cry, argue or plead, but it’s done. They’re fired. They need to gather their things and leave the dealership. Don’t say a word to another employee that day. Draft a short email explaining your decision and send it late that day or first thing the next morning for the Saturday crew. Be prepared for some pushback from a few employees that got along fine with them.
This is the tough part of being in the “big chair.” However, when you’re willing to deal with behavior that doesn’t fit your core beliefs, you’ll be stronger. You’ll gain the respect of your people, employees you treasure, and you’ll look forward to going to work each day. Customers will notice the difference, too.
Many times, the person who’s fired learns something, too. They find out that in order to maintain employment, they have to work hard and get along with others, not tear them down. Sometimes, being fired spurs them on to achieve career paths that are better for them. That’s what you hope for.