Dave Kerpen | When To Fire People
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When To Fire People

When To Fire People

The first time I fired someone, it was the hardest thing I’d ever done.

It’s gotten easier over the years, but it’s still never any fun, obviously.

Arguably, the most difficult part of any entrepreneur or leader’s job is firing people when they don’t work out. Because of that, I have seen time and time again CEOs holding on to employees months or even years after they know in their gut that they’re not the right people in the right seats.

Why? What often happens is due to the psychological principle known as “cognitive dissonance.” We work so hard to find and hire the right people, and we desperately want to believe that we’ve made a good choice once we hire them. This is so powerful that even as those employees give us sign after sign and signal after signal that they’re not the right person, we don’t want to believe it, and subsequently we keep them employed, or we try to follow the model and move them to a different position, telling ourselves, “If only we move their seats, it’ll work out.”

If this describes you, please be easy on yourself. As I said, I’ve seen this phenomenon play out hundreds of times . . . and I’m sure I’ve been guilty of it myself as a leader as well. That said, it can have devastating effects on your business. The wrong person on a small team, or the wrong leader on a larger team, has ripple effects on productivity, culture, and morale.

It is never worth keeping someone who’s reporting to you once you know they are not the right person in the right seat.

When do you know?

For me, it’s the minute I have doubt. I have the benefit of years of experience, and the truth is, I never doubt A or A+ players. I might need to coach them on a particular topic or opportunity to improve, but I never doubt their overall abilities to do the job. That’s how I know that if I’m feeling doubt, that person is not an A player. An A player is a rockstar, someone who consistently over-delivers and contributes more than expected. A B player might be good at their job, but there’s probably something they’re better suited for somewhere else, perhaps where they’d even be an A player. And while not every role necessarily requires an A player, why wouldn’t you want a team of all-stars if you could create one?

But Why Can’t You Have B Players on Your Team?

The short answer is: You can. You can also have C players and D players on your team. After all, by definition, they’re not “failing,” right?

But why would you want B players, C players, and D players? And how would it help THEM to be there? When I let go of a non–A player from my team, I always remind myself that they deserve to be an A player on another team. In other words, it’s not them that’s the problem necessarily, it’s the fit on our team, and the sooner I make a change, the sooner they can find a better fit where they are an A player.

Letting people go who aren’t a fit for your company is a gift to THEM, in the long run, so they can find a better fit. Their dream job is not with you, I assure you!

This may sound harsh. However, in my experience, CEOs and leaders usually hire people too quickly and nearly always take too long to fire people. Cognitive dissonance makes us tend to want to give people the benefit of the doubt. But in the long run, hiring B or C players and holding on to employees you doubt do the company any good does you no good as a leader, and, perhaps most important, does the employee no good!

So consider this a challenge: look long and hard at your team, and set your non-A players free!


This excerpt from Get Over Yourself: How to Lead and Delegate Effectively for More Time, More Freedom, and More Success illuminates the often under discussed but critically important aspect of leadership – the courage to make difficult personnel decisions. It’s a reminder that part of our journey towards becoming more effective leaders involves the willingness to confront the uncomfortable truths, not just about our teams but about ourselves.

Get Over Yourself on Amazon

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