In his book Fire Someone Today: And Other Surprising Tactics for Making Your Business a Success Bob Pritchett nails why managers are always afraid to fire someone: They fear admitting they made a mistake in the hiring process.
A good friend of mine is general manager of a restaurant. Whenever one of his subordinates tells him that they’re planning on firing an employee, he asks, “Why did you hire the person? Have those reasons changed between then and today?” His goal is a simple one ― to determine if it’s the employee’s fault that his job is in jeopardy or the manager’s fault for making a bad hiring decision. It’s very often the second reason, not the first. If so, my friend advises that the hiring process be fixed so it doesn’t need to trigger the firing process.
Here’s another point my friend makes, which I’ve experienced during 30 years as an employment lawyer: Supervisors often cha-cha around their obligation to let an employee go when the time comes because the employee performs some key function. We all rationalize, including me. Pritchett captures the internal dialogue that goes on in a supervisor’s mind: “Somebody has to do this job, and if we fire this person today, who is going to do the job tomorrow? We don’t have anyone else to fill the position, nor the time to find someone.” Pritchett says that’s an excuse, not a valid reason, and I agree. The termination cha-cha is for the convenience of the manager, not the good of the company.
Michael Maslanka is a partner in the Dallas, Texas, office of Constangy, Brooks & Smith, LLP. He has 30 years of experience in litigation and trial of employment law cases. He is the editor of Texas Employment Law Letter, and he also authors the “Work Matters” blog for Texas Lawyer.