Being Fired Poorly Taught Me How To Correctly Let Others Go

13 years ago and only weeks after receiving an extraordinary annual performance review and hosting CEO Mike Jeffries and his entourage in my store to receive the Best In Region award, I was pulled into an office with my district manager and an anonymous HR manager I’d never met on speaker phone. I was told with very little context that I was being let go for breaking the company’s fraternization policy. 

I was shocked. I had started working for Hollister as a senior in high school. Before working there I wasn’t very social, I had a small group of close friends, and dreamed of becoming a professional computer programmer. Working for the company brought me out of my shell and helped me to evolve my identity. It was this job that made me realize how much I enjoyed meeting new people, selling products, and leading a small team.

I drove home from the mall ashamed and didn’t know what I was going to do. I pulled off the freeway for a while to contemplate my next steps. A big chapter of my life was now closing. I knew I couldn’t work at Hollister forever and I didn’t want to, but it was still a disappointment and an embarrassment. I didn’t exactly realize it then, but I know now that God was forcing my hand and telling me it was time to grow up and move onto the next phase of my life.

Two weeks later I received job offers from Staples, Best Buy, and a few other retailers. I accepted a position as a full-time customer assistant at Best Buy. The store’s general manager Teresa and assistant manager AJ sold me the all too common tale, “If you work hard and do a good job you will move up in the company quickly.” And they were right! I ended up staying with Best Buy for almost 10 years and gained an incredible amount of leadership, sales, and customer service skills. 

I’m still grateful that the door to my Hollister career was closed. I have changed a lot and could never picture myself working for a company like them again. But the way I was terminated still bothers me. I wasn’t given any opportunity to defend myself, I wasn’t given any paperwork describing why I was being terminated, and I had a copy of the company policy at home that did not condemn fraternization. 

It turned out that they didn’t even replace my position when I was let go. The company ended up eliminating overnight managers company-wide. Which is probably a good thing because the fact that we had 15-20 people come in from 9PM-2AM everyday just to organize and make the store look beautiful was quite the expense. But that is a story for another day.

It is important for you as a Kingdom leader to work from a different playbook. You must put more thought and care into your terminations. No one likes being fired. And no manager likes to be the one to have to let someone go. But we can do a better job and you can learn from what I’ve had to learn the hard way, letting dozens of good people go.

Have you done everything you can before seeking termination?

If your employee is surprised they are being fired then you probably shouldn’t be firing them. Except in the rare case of theft or another non-negotiable being terminated should come at the end of a very long performance development process. Many companies use the phrase performance management, but I think this is poor language and we should stick to performance development… Words matter! Why is your employee being fired? In my post 5 Tactics To Take Your Performance Reviews From Ordinary to Extraordinary I explained:

“No one applies for a job, goes through the lengthy interview process, gets a background check and takes a drug test, sits through orientation and the onboarding process, gets their uniform and then wakes up and shows up to work and says, “I am going to do a terrible job today. I want to make my boss look bad, I want to ignore everything that I learned, and throw away my common sense.”

If you believe your team has their best intentions at heart and you believe in treating them as you treat yourself then something must have went wrong in the process. Find out where and fix it! And show compassion to this employee during their performance review and take ownership of the opportunity. They were probably thrown to the sharks to fend for themselves as most employees that underperform were and they are doing the best they can do. Throw them a life vest, make them feel great, and give them the additional direction they need. With the right focus your under performers will quickly become important contributing members of your team. But you must take full ownership of their failures. And remember, they get full credit for their success.”

If you haven’t done everything you can possibly do to help this team member succeed then you are to blame for their performance, not them. Before seeking termination is it possible they are not a good match for their current position? If they have a good attitude, show up for work on time, take good care of their appearance, and are nice to be around can you move them to a different department where they will excel? 

If they are a sales employee and they aren’t meeting quota and it isn’t for lack of trying could they be better suited for a customer service role? If they are a customer service employee and they work hard, but don’t always handle customers concerns well, maybe they can work in your warehouse? Sometimes when someone is realigned into a better role they can succeed and become one of your rockstars. A warehouse employee who used to be a sales employee becomes an amazing asset when they are stocking shelves and can still help a customer when you are slammed and all your sales folks are busy. When your team has experience in multiple departments they can often help bridge gaps in teamwork and foster cross-department relationships. There is a lot of value in this. 

Unfortunately 15% of your team needs to be let go

If you’ve examined your performance development process and done all that you can to save an under performer from being terminated then you must take action. Anyone on your team that is toxic must go. I don’t care how many small favors they do for you and how it seems like they are always willing to get involved in a new project. They usually ignore their primary job responsibility, it gets saddled onto someone else’s back, and their best talent is sucking up to your leadership team. Their teammates can’t stand working with them because they get away with doing very little work and they are tired of picking up their slack. 

Oftentimes these folks have worked with you for a long time and have mastered how to do just enough work to skate by, but not enough to be useful. They are doing irreparable damage to your culture and making small chinks in the armor of your teamwork. If you aren’t careful eventually you will have a team full of disengaged employees that are just showing up for a paycheck. 

Do not waste time on these employees. According to Gallup 15% of your team fits this description. They call these employees actively disengaged and define this as, “those who have miserable work experiences and spread their unhappiness to their colleagues.”

Are you thinking of someone on your team right now? It is often better to just get rid of these people. You won’t have any luck trying to get them to care about their jobs again. Just make sure you learn a lesson from these employees. Where do you need to improve? Is it your talent selection, your interview process, your training, or development? Is your salary not competitive enough? Are you not holding your team accountable? Wherever you are lacking, make sure you solve it. Because you don’t want to keep letting people down.

“Some think it’s cruel or brutal to remove the bottom 10 per cent of our people. It isn’t. It’s just the opposite. What I think is brutal and “false kindness” is keeping people around who aren’t going to grow and prosper. There’s no cruelty like waiting and telling people late in their careers that they don’t belong – just when their job options are limited and they’re putting their children through college or paying off big mortgages.”

Jack: Straight from the Gut, by Jack Welch

Jack’s strategy may seem harsh… But you must understand that before getting rid of their bottom performers they made sure they build a strong culture of employee development.

“[our strategy] works because we spent over a decade building a performance culture with candid feedback at every level. Candor and openness are the foundations of such a culture. I wouldn’t want to inject [this strategy] cold turkey into an organization without a performance culture already in place.”  

Jack Welch

Additional tips for the termination

  1. Make sure that there is someone else in the room… This is not negotiable. Ten years ago you could possibly get away with firing an employee yourself, but now we must make sure we always have a witness. Sometimes these conversations can get a bit out of hand, so you can never be too careful. Men, if you are firing a woman please make sure there is another woman in the room as a witness. You do not want there to be any appearance of any impropriety.
  2. Prepare your security and your witness for the termination. Make sure your building security is aware that you are going to be letting someone go and about what time you expect it to happen. Also, make sure your witness is prepared to kindly escort the employee to retrieve their property and out of your building. You do not want them to be going all over your building and sharing their side of the story. For their best interest and yours it is better if they leave your property immediately. 
  3. Don’t add any extra details or emotion. I know that you care about your employees and you may feel guilty about firing them, but this is not the time to be their friend and to let them know everything is going to be okay. You must set your personal relationship aside, stay professional, and stick to the facts. This clip from the movie Moneyball does a very good job showing how to keep it straight and to the point. “Pete, I’ve got to let you go. Jack’s office will handle the details.”

Alex Lieberman the co-founder and CEO of Morning Brew recently discussed letting employees go on his podcast. On the episode My First Fire on The Founder’s Journal. Alex shares, “My first big mistake here was making this more of a two way conversation than it had to be. A layoff conversation should be 90% manager talking and 10% employee. There is unfortunately very little upside to making it a more balanced conversation.”

  1. Make sure that they understand why they are being terminated. You may need to write this down on a document that they take with them. But make sure they know why they are being fired! When I was a teenager and worked at Hollister we had the worst employee experience ever. We did group interviews every Friday and hired one half dozen new employees to replace the ones we were going to let go that week. The managers often didn’t communicate why an employee was being fired. I saw this happen dozens of times, an employee would come into the building to print their schedule, punch in their employee number onto the computer, and the screen would display this message: “Terminated employees can not access the system.” They would get a forlorn look on their face, look around to see if anyone noticed, and leave the building. Unbelievable! It is no wonder that Hollister was constantly being sued. And apparently still is. According to Shaw v. Abercrombie & Fitch Co; July 31, 2019, “Abercrombie & Fitch Co. is facing a class action over allegedly depriving employees of proper wages for off-the-clock work, overtime and missed breaks.” This is not surprising because when I worked there I was scheduled 50-60 hours per week and was only paid my measly hourly rate for 40-hours and half time for the additional hours above that.


Do not wait to get rid of a toxic under performer. Your entire team is being affected by their attitude and lack of work ethic. Your culture depends on you letting these people go. You may not like this part of the job, but I’m sorry, it doesn’t matter. As a leader you must step up and take ownership. Your team will thank you.

“Has a manager ever regretted firing someone for performance reasons after the fact? I doubt it. I doubt that managers say, ‘I wish I kept Bob around for a few months even though he was under performer. I think we should have waited until September before we fired him.’ I am sure you will agree that almost every single time, mangers will say, ‘I wish I had fired Bob sooner. Things are so much better now that we have someone in his position making more of a contribution.'”

Fix Them or Fire Them, by Steven J. Shaer

When you follow the tips I’ve outlined in this article you will be letting an employee go after you have done everything you can. You will be honest, straight forward, and clear on why they are being let go and it will not come as a surprise. Their termination will come at the end of a long performance development process with hours of coaching, redirection, realignment, and counseling. 

Remember, when you let them go you are making room for someone new. An employee that will drive your performance forward and be a positive contributor to your culture. You may be letting someone go, but they will end up flourishing in a new environment and may thank you later. I know this first hand, although I am not happy with the way I was terminated, I am now grateful that it happened. 

“It’s not the people you fire who make your life miserable. It’s the people you don’t.”

Discipline Without Punishment, by Dick Grote

Feature Image Courtesy Of Patryk Sobczak.

3 replies on “Being Fired Poorly Taught Me How To Correctly Let Others Go”

Thanks James.. I will apply this termination protocol to discard my wife from Brant Family Farm. Oh wait – do not need to as she already desires to be terminated. Thanks again for everything.. Don

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