EP10 – When Is It Time To Fire Someone At Work – Part 2

This episode is the second in a two-part series about firing employees at work.

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Podcast Transcript:

Joshua MacLeod:
A lot of times, firing isn’t really firing. It’s transitioning. I actually like the term retire. It’s like where you get new tires and then you keep going. So I’m going to retire this person. Well, yeah. Here, new tires are great. Love you. I think you can do better somewhere else. I’m going to retire you and put you in another organization.

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Podcast Announcer:
This episode is the completion of a conversation started in Episode Nine, about when it’s appropriate to fire someone at an organization. Here are your hosts, Joshua MacLeod and Bernie Anderson.

Bernie Anderson:
Well, now’s the hard part though, Joshua. We’re going to have to go hard ball here now. How do we begin to go about firing people on our team, and how do we know who is … Who do we fire?

Joshua MacLeod:
I was on a trip in Darfur, Sudan, with an organization called Persecution Project Foundation. We were doing clean water projects, and there was a guy on the trip named Frank Seekins. We were talking about pruning, and we were talking about the necessary ingredients of pruning trees in order to produce the most amount of fruit. And so, he said that he used to work in an apple orchard.

Joshua MacLeod:
In an apple orchard, there are three branches on a tree that you have to prune. The first is a branch that is laying on another branch. The second thing he said you prune on an apple tree is, there are the shoots that shoot up. They’re not actually part of the tree, but they somehow use the root system of the tree. They’re called suckers. They grow up at the bottom of the tree and they look like the tree, and they look healthy, and they look great. The problem is, they never produce any fruit.

Joshua MacLeod:
Then the third thing is, he said, “If you have a branch on your tree that is so big and heavy that it actually starts leaning over, the entire tree will start leaning in the direction of that branch, and the root systems underneath actually get loosened because this big branch is leaning the tree over.” So when I think about firing people, thinking about pruning a tree is a really good analogy to look at, where might I need some pruning or some firing in my organization?

Joshua MacLeod:
So let’s talk through those three different types of branches. The first type of branch is where I have two branches leaning on each other, creating a fungus. It’s like, I love the cartoon where somebody is sitting at the laptop and they’re looking at the screen, and the person’s standing over their shoulder. And it’s like, “I think you misspelled micromanager.” It’s like, you can’t do anything without someone looking over your shoulder.

Joshua MacLeod:
When two people are doing the same job, I’m double paying for that function, so micromanagement is something that absolutely needs to be pruned from an organization. If I have a team member that doesn’t have the capacity to do the job so that I have somebody else over their shoulder having to check up on it, well, then I haven’t provided the training or I don’t have the right team member for that position.

Joshua MacLeod:
More often than not, it’s not that the team member isn’t capable, it’s that the micromanager just feels the need to look over the shoulder and, I don’t know, make everybody’s life miserable. Micromanagers just need fired. There is no shortcut. If somebody is a micromanager, they are going to diminish the culture in your organization. Your team members stop working for the good of the organization, and they start working to meet the limited requirements of the micromanager.

Bernie Anderson:
Absolutely.

Joshua MacLeod:
If somebody is a micromanager on your team, they need to be fired. That’s just what it is. Now, what people don’t often see that is equally as detrimental to an organization is not a micromanager. It’s not somebody that’s looking over the shoulder to correct mistakes, it’s what I call a hero manager. A hero manager is basically the person who steps in as the superhero and takes care of everybody’s problems. They’re not looking for you to make a mistake. They’re not allowing you to make a mistake. If you’re about to make a mistake, they swoop in like Superman or Superwoman, and come in and just, “I’m going to fix this problem.”

Joshua MacLeod:
A hero manager is so detrimental to a team because, what happens is, the hero manager wins a lottery and they leave the organization. Now you’re left with all of the other employees that were dependent on that hero manager’s skill standing like deer in the headlights, and the boss comes in and they’re like, “Why isn’t anything getting done?” “Oh, we lost that hero manager.”

Joshua MacLeod:
A good manager isn’t just interested in swooping in and fixing problems. A good manager is making sure that every person in your team is reaching their full capacity, working within the skillset and the environment that they have. So if I’m a leader of an organization and I have a hero manager in my organization, I have to see if I can convert that hero manager into somebody that can get underneath my team instead of somebody that’s on top, pulling them up all the time.

Joshua MacLeod:
Hero managers destroy systems, because they are the system in and of themselves. The challenge is, they’re the biggest cultural blanket to your team where your team stops performing at the level of their highest achievement, and they start performing at the level of whatever’s necessary to just get by. Micromanagers and hero managers cause the same thing. So the first thing when you’re thinking about, who in the organization might need to be fired, is your hero managers and your micromanagers. You start with your leadership.

Bernie Anderson:
So if somebody is coming in and she’s your new CEO coming in and over all of these managers in her organization, however that’s organized. She comes in to this new situation and is having to figure out, “All right, I’ve got all these micromanagers and hero managers.” The solution isn’t necessarily to immediately clean the slate, although it could be.

Joshua MacLeod:
Yeah.

Bernie Anderson:
But going back to what we said before about incentive, expectation, and communication, we want to begin to work with, “Hey, here is what I expect of my managers. I mean, I’m incentivizing you not to micromanage, not to hero manage, but to empower, and I am going to communicate that clearly.” So just again, going back to those roots. Firing isn’t just about …

Joshua MacLeod:
No.

Bernie Anderson:
It’s about making sure that those things are in place if they haven’t been in place before.

Joshua MacLeod:
If a leader is used to being a hero manager, it’s not the fault of the hero manager themselves. They’re just doing what comes naturally. They’re a hero, “I want to go solve the problems here. I want to go.” If somebody is being a micromanager, it’s not necessarily their fault. That’s just what they’ve been trained to. That’s what they are going to do. If you run the organization, you give them three to six months to stop micro-managing or stop hero managing, or, “You’re going to have to be dismissed from our organization.” We’re not into Growability. We’re not into organizations reaching good potential. We’re into organizations reaching their full potential. Our name is Growability, so we want people to grow. Organizations cannot grow to their full potential if they have hero managers and micromanagers, it just doesn’t work.

Bernie Anderson:
That is actually super helpful. Talk to us about suckers. What is a sucker?

Joshua MacLeod:
Suckers are in an organization, people that you like and everyone else likes, but they don’t actually add value to the organization itself. If I hire a salesperson, I’m hiring that salesperson to grow the organization sales. So I’m hiring that person to … If our revenue line is 5%, we need to get it to 10%, so we hired the salesperson to get us to 10%. So I hire Sue, who is an incredible salesperson. I love Sue. She’s great. Culture loves Sue. Everybody loves Sue. So in a year, I hired Sue for sales. A year later, we’re still at 5%.

Joshua MacLeod:
Just because I like somebody doesn’t mean that our organization should have them on staff just because I like them. Just because everybody on the team likes this person, doesn’t mean that you keep them on the team just because you like them. I had a nonprofit organization. I had a person in the organization I fundamentally liked. Fun to hang out with. A great person. But at the end of the day, it was like, this person has incredible potential. They could go and really do so many different things. In the year that they were here, they didn’t actually help the organization raise its game at all. It was good for them because they had experience and they got this thing, but it didn’t actually help the organization.

Joshua MacLeod:
What a sucker is, is it’s somebody that uses the same root system of your organization, but doesn’t actually produce fruit for the organization. So it sounds so harsh to just say, “You’re saying that Sue is going to get fired, even though she did everything that she could, and even though she’s a nice person?” Yeah. It’s not firing based on, “I don’t like Sue.” It’s firing based on, “Sue is not reaching her full potential as a salesperson.” It’s not doing somebody a favor to keep them on your team just because you like them if they’re not actually bringing a huge value at your organization, and if you’re not bringing a huge value add to their life.

Joshua MacLeod:
A lot of times, firing isn’t really firing. It’s transitioning. I actually like the term retire. It’s like where you get new tires and then you keep going. So I’m going to retire this person. Well, yeah. Here, new tires are great. Love you. I think you can do better somewhere else. I’m going to retire you and put you in another organization. It’s a numbers game. This is where, if you don’t keep good dashboards and metrics, like the first thing we do whenever we go into an organization, is like, “Okay, what are we measuring? How do we measure?” If you don’t keep good dashboards and metrics on your time, on your team, you’re not able to actually make good decisions. That’s what suckers are.

Bernie Anderson:
Yeah. Like you said, there’s people that may be really great somewhere else. That means we need to help them get somewhere else and get the talent in your place that you need for what you do. Yeah. That’s huge, I think.

Joshua MacLeod:
Everybody wants to have a job where everybody in the job is treated like family. The problem with that is, I don’t fire my family if they can’t get the job done.

Bernie Anderson:
That’s right.

Joshua MacLeod:
So in an organization, I think it’s so much more helpful for leadership to think of yourself as a coach, not as like a dad or a mom. If you’re trying to be a dad or a mom, you’re really not doing yourself or them a favor. If you are a coach, you have a lot of potential to help them and to help them grow.

Joshua MacLeod:
Now, on the third branch, this branch that’s really big and it’s leaning the organization, if you have a team member in your organization that has such an incredibly high skill that they really should be running their own organization or doing their own thing, and it’s taking the core business that you provide, and it’s shifting that core focus somewhere else, then they really should help them out the door to go start their own thing. Send them out with a blessing.

Bernie Anderson:
That’s good. So far, we’ve got fire yourself. Fire your vendors, micromanagers, hero managers, and suckers. We need to fire them. Is that it? Are we good? Do we still have more? Who else do we fire?

Joshua MacLeod:
Okay. Now you get it down to the team members. I just want to say, I just want to go back and remind everybody, you don’t lead with guns a-blazing, “I’m going to go fire everybody.” You lead with, “Do we have the right systems in place for incentive and expectation, and feedback?” Firing should be the last step in the equation, where you’ve exhausted everything you can do in your organization to solve the need, and then you fire somebody. But there’s two different types of people that I think on a team level, are people that you just need to fire for the good of the organization.

Joshua MacLeod:
The first is what I would call a culture assassin. If you pull into the parking lot and you see this person’s car, and you get the base of your stomach like, “Ooh,” then there’s a good sense that the other people in the organization feel the same way.

Joshua MacLeod:
So a culture assassin, what I typically do is, I’ll take a piece of paper and I’ll draw 10 circles on the piece of paper. And I’ll say, “Let’s say these 10 circles represent the 10 people in your organization. And so, here’s the trouble spot. I’ve got Sally, Sally with a bad attitude. I got bad-add Sally.” I start scribbling all over Sally. And I say, “This is the Sally circle. This is Sally’s bad attitude.” I said, “Do you fire Sally because she has a bad attitude?” And what I’ll say is, “No.” Because it’s isolated. If Sally keeps her bad attitude to herself and everybody just knows, that’s bad-attitude Sally. That’s how it’s going to be, and everybody doesn’t take her too seriously, then that’s fine.

Joshua MacLeod:
But then I start scribbling in the other circles around Sally. And I’m like, “If bad-attitude Sally is spreading to where now I’ve got bad-attitude Bill over here. And I’ve got that bad-attitude Bethany over here,” and this virus starts spreading out where the bad attitude is spreading out to the organization, well, now I have to take action. So I’ve got to warn Sally like, “Hey, your bad attitude is spreading. If you just have a bad attitude, I’m going to do everything that I can to help you have a good attitude. I’m going to give you incentive. I’m going to give you a expectation. I’m going to give you communication. I’m going to make sure we’re working with the best vendors that are out there. I’m going to make sure that all this stuff is there. But if bad attitude keeps spreading, then you’re going to get written up. And then you’re going to get fired.”

Joshua MacLeod:
The second is not a cultural thing. This is not a cultural assassin. This is a system assassin. So you spend-

Bernie Anderson:
It sounds so harsh. System assassin.

Joshua MacLeod:
Well, so here’s the system assassin. System assassin is, we have upgraded to Windows 11. The system assassin is like, “I am going to use Windows 11.” If that is at their workstation, they’re the little circle, and they’re like, their workstation is still using Windows 95 and everybody else is using Windows 11, and it doesn’t impact the rest of the system, that’s fine. You could use an Atari 2S if you’re getting the job done, that’s fine. We don’t really care. But if three of the other team members are dependent on the software on your computer and you don’t have the right update because you refused to do that, then you’re actually creating a system breakdown for the entire organization.

Joshua MacLeod:
You need to fire team members that, if it spreads like a virus, then the team member needs to get let go. If it doesn’t spread and it’s just them, you need to be patient and loving, and kind, and build them up, and give them everything that you can. That’s the bottom of the list. So you fire yourself, you fire your vendors, you fire improper managers, you fire team members when necessary. That’s the whole list.

Bernie Anderson:
The system assassin is the person that just refuses to change and learn, and go with that new thing. They’ll potentially just derail where you want to go with this. Right?

Joshua MacLeod:
Yeah. The system assassin is like breaking the line in the assembly line. Like, the motor needs to move from here to here, but system assassin is like, “I’m not doing that.” Then that’s where you got to let them … Okay, we covered a lot of ground.

Bernie Anderson:
We have covered a lot of ground.

Joshua MacLeod:
Guns are blazing.

Bernie Anderson:
They are. I just will add just here, as we close out today, super grateful for everyone who has listened or who will listen to the live, lunch and learn. Do make sure that you are subscribed to The Growability Podcast at your podcast app of choice. Also, just to let everyone know that, if your organization needs help sorting through, “Hey, we’ve got a lot of stuff going on. I need to fire some people, but I don’t know how to do that. I don’t know if I want to do that. How do we do this in an objective way? How do we figure out what my expectations and my communication, and my incentives need to be? How do I even know what those are,” definitely go to growability.com and we would be happy to have a conversation with you about that as well. All right. My friend, I think we’ve done enough damage-

Joshua MacLeod:
Thank you.

Bernie Anderson:
… for the day.

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