Firing Henry: The Hardest Decision You Have to Make

firedFiring someone is the among the hardest decisions a business owner needs to make. And the most necessary.

A long time CEO and I were talking recently about the work of a leader and our conversation turned to the challenge of having the right people on one’s team and taking action when someone is not a good fit and needs to move on.

And here’s the reality: everyone in the organization is watching you.

I’ve found over the years three critical times to take action:

  1. The person is simply not performing up to expectations for the job and after coaching is still not meeting those expectations. In these situations, decisions here are usually fairly straight-forward if you have a rigorous process of feedback, coaching, accountability, and action. You’re focusing on behaviors and clear performance expectations. Do not unduly delay taking action.
    Your risk in delaying action on an under-performing member of your team is that you drag down the performance of the rest of the team. Your “A” players notice that this member of the team is not carrying his or her share of the load. They are waiting for some action from you. If action by you doesn’t come, you risk demoralizing the rest of the team.
  2. That top-producing “Rain Maker” you hired is delivering, but is not a team player and doesn’t fit into your culture.   Ouch! What do you do? Too many people wait far too long to cut this person loose. The lure of the revenue is hard to give up. But if you have someone who doesn’t fit your culture and is not a team player, you risk far more than the loss of that incremental revenue. This person is corrosive to your organization and can ultimately create far greater harm than the revenue they bring in the door.
    Remember, your people are watching you. They will be wondering just how long you are going to let this go on. By your inaction, you are sending strong signals that this new way of behaving is the new norm and is acceptable to you. And some will leave because of it.
  3. Henry: He was with you when you founded the company but is no longer the right fit in the role he holds or with the company as it has grown. This is a frequent situation with small companies that have seen success and grown. You depended on Henry when you founded the company. He was with you every step of the way. He was loyal and he made a positive difference. But the role has now outgrown Henry’s skills. Or, the company has grown and you now need someone with very different sets of experience and knowledge to move the company forward to the next level. Henry simply is no longer be the right person to help you continue to build the company.
    Dealing with Henry is without a doubt one of the hardest decisions any CEO or business owner makes. But make it you must. Do it with consideration and as much kindness as possible. But do it.
    As in every other situation, everyone in the company is watching what you do. When they see Henry as no longer the right fit to carry out the role needed by the company, they’re watching you to see if you have everyone’s interests at heart. And this is your key leadership challenge as the CEO or owner. You have to think about how you continue providing for the success and well-being of everyone on-board. This is NOT about Henry any longer.

In our last situation about Henry, you can certainly take action that is caring and empathetic. You can give severance, you can give a transition period to help with a soft landing. What you cannot do is leave the situation as it is and pretend everything is okay. And that’s why this is so hard.


When employees drive your business success…
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