On Termination

Firing a geek should be the most difficult task for any Geek Leader. If it’s not, the leader should consider that he or she might be too angry to be rational about the situation. I would personally rather handle a broken SAN and pull 5 all-nighters in 8 days (which I have actually done) than terminate an employee. To deal with this necessary evil, I’ve adopted the following strategies:

  • Involve HR. If your company has a Human Resources department, use them! No matter how contentious your relationship may have been in the past (“What do you mean that a wooden bear that poops M&Ms might not be appropriate for the office?”), they’ll still probably be professional enough to help you through the process.
  • Speaking of process, if your company has one, you must jump through those hoops. Yes, even if they seem nonsensical.
  • Keep an open mind. If you’ve decided to warn the employee, be willing to accept that he or she might actually improve!
  • Document, document, document. If you warn the employee, write up the warning to put into his or her personnel file. Keep a log of unacceptable activities. Make sure there’s a paper trail.
  • Obey the law. If your company has very few policies around employee termination, you may want to consider doing some research and involving legal counsel. This is especially important if the employee is in a “protected class” due to age, race, etc.
  • Have a wingman. If you’ve jumped through all the hoops and still have to fire the employee, don’t do it alone. Ideally, involve HR and/or someone further up the food chain.
  • Be direct. Come up with and rehearse your opening lines that communicate that things haven’t been working out and therefore you have made the unfortunate decision to terminate the person’s employment. You’ll probably be nervous during the process, and having rehearsed lines helps.

It shouldn’t ever be easy. You’re taking away someone’s livelihood. Unfortunately, it is all too often necessary to terminate an employee for the good of the team/company. The best leaders–the most respected leaders–do not hesitate to fire a non-performer. Keep that in mind, and do what’s right. Follow the process, and get it done.

You probably won’t sleep well the night before. Frankly, I’d be worried if you did.

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