The 4 Steps to Take Before You Fire an Employee

Think of your Wrong Fit—the person who permanently under performs and has a bad attitude and causes you a lot of grief. Now think back to your high school Biology class and what you learned about parasites. Its goal is to latch on to a host that can supply its needs and stay latched on—permanently. The parasite never wants to take so much that the host dies; that wouldn’t be effective.

The parasite needs to keep its supply of nourishment flowing. The host might feel constantly tired, but that’s fine, just so long as it doesn’t die, thus ending the relationship. The parasite doesn’t give anything, it’s only there to take.

In the same way, people who you need to fire probably don’t care about you. They care about themselves and will not take action to sever themselves from their host (you). If anything’s going to change with your Wrong Fits, it will be because you initiate it.

Warn them

Some Wrong Fits may have drifted into that box for other reasons. This is certainly the case if you’ve seen them perform better, and you know they can do it if they want to. These people need your help and your intervention if they’re ever going to get back on track and move into a better box.

Often Wrong Fits are never called out on their behaviour. This dynamic, however, is not fair to the leader, the company, and especially the employee. If a Wrong Fit doesn’t know specifically how and why she’s not making it, she has no opportunity to address her issues and fix them.

Act as their reality advisor

Wrong Fits stay in a company for many reasons, sometimes simply because they don’t know they’re Wrong Fits. More often than not, they think they’re great.

Harvard Business Review cites an interesting study by Thomas Schlosser of the University of Cologne, which highlights the underperformer’s perception of his own performance: “In a logic test administered to people who had volunteered over the internet, a team of researchers found that the lowest scorers vastly overestimated their performance, believing, on average, that they had gotten seven out of ten items right, when the actual figure was zero.

People who lack the skill to perform well also tend to lack the ability to judge performance… because of this ‘dual curse,’ they fail to recognize how incompetent they truly are. But skills aren’t set in stone: Teaching poor performers to solve logic problems causes them to see their own errors and reduce their previous estimates of their performance.”

Read the HBR article here:

A reality advisor is someone who helps a person see beyond his own perception of a situation, to what’s really going on. As leader, you need to get comfortable wearing this hat from time to time. When a person is unaware of what’s really going on, a crash is imminent, and a reality advisor can help him—and the company—avoid the wreckage that usually ensues.

Imagine a husband entering a marriage with a large amount of debt. He doesn’t want to turn off his potential wife, so he doesn’t mention anything about it. As time goes on, the debt grows, as does the incentive to keep it secret. However, one day, the wife is going to find out. She’s going to stumble across a bank balance, or get a letter from a creditor, or receive a notice that they have to sell their house to settle the debt. When she finally finds the truth, there’s going to be a crash.

Such gaps between reality and perception destroy marriages, and they also turn into major people problems at work. When you have an employee who thinks he’s amazing and people all around him disagree, eventually it will come to a sad end. This situation can go on for a long time, but it will end, and when it does, it’s going to be expensive, messy, and unpleasant for everyone involved.  When the beginning is bad, the end is going to be worse.

Jack Welch famously said, “Protecting underperformers always backfires.” At some point, perception and reality are going to meet. You can count on it.

Strategize about your options

Sometimes replacing a Wrong Fit is about timing. It’s like a battle strategy. You know the battle is coming, but if you’re smart, you choose the time and place of the battle, and don’t allow it to be forced on you by someone else, or by your own emotions that press you to act immediately.

Instead, map out a multi-pronged exit strategy. You should be thinking of strategic questions like:

  • Who is going to have a warning “reality talk” with this person?
  • How are you going to tighten accountability so that underperformance is called out, giving this person every chance to change?
  • What is the best time for him to be replaced, both for you and for him?
  • Who do you know who could be a candidate to take over his job?

Start brainstorming options to replace your Wrong Fit, and begin contacting these people to see where they’re at in life.

Cut your losses

If you’ve engaged in multiple reality talks and been clear in your warnings and you still don’t see any change happening, it’s time for you to act. Retaining Wrong Fits is not fair to you, to the company, to their co-workers, or to them. Nor is the situation going to correct itself, since you’ve already given your best efforts to warn them and act as their reality advisor and the situation hasn’t improved.

You’ve been chosen as leader and coach to do what’s right for the team, and this is your moment to gain the respect of all your best people. Football coach Lou Holtz said it best: “Motivation is simple. You eliminate those who are not motivated.”

The Cost of a Wrong Fit

Letting a Wrong Fit go is a sad decision—but not a hard one, because there are serious costs and other consequences to keeping one. In fact, studies show that the cost is much higher than you think:

A sales representative can cost up to five times his annual base salary, a manager can cost up to fifteen times his annual base salary, while an executive can cost up to thirty times his annual base salary. Does this seem high to you? What if the true number was half of these statistics? Or a quarter? The expense is still massive.

Think about some of the costs involved, small and large:

  • Running ads
  • Vetting resumes and interviewing candidates
  • Training and orientating
  • Upsetting the team
  • Repelling your current stars or causing them to leave
  • Making mistakes, small and large
  • Missing sales through incompetence
  • Turning off your best customers or losing them during transition
  • Lacking the octane needed to innovate and move things forward
  • Draining your emotional resources and keeping you from focusing on opportunity
  • Paying severance and the ensuing emotional costs in finally letting them go
  • Repeating the cycle

The longer a Wrong Fit stays, the higher these costs mount, and all that time, he’s still there underperforming, and taking a paycheque, too! Companies that have Stars in every key seat are up to 300 percent more profitable than those that don’t.

Dealing with wrong fits is critical to maintaining your culture

One of the biggest costs of letting your Wrong Fits stick around is in the damage this does to your work culture. At the end of the day, a great culture is one where great people who perform well share right attitudes. A bad culture is one where poor performers are tolerated, and allowed to spread their bad attitudes to others.

When great performers work side by side with poor performers, the better workers come to a few conclusions. First, they see that there’s no justice in the world. People can get paid the same as them, have a bad attitude, and underperform at work without consequence. They see the futility of giving their all, because in the end, what does it really matter? Great performance, poor performance; it’s all tolerated. They conclude, perhaps correctly, that management doesn’t really care or notice.

Do you think that poor performers rise up to match the performance of better players around them? If your answer is yes, think again; nine times out of ten it’s the reverse. The Stars see that there’s no justice—that effort and attitude don’t matter—and their attitudes begin to sink.

Eventually some will sag to match the performance of the poorest players, and your best people who have other options will go work for your competitors.

Action steps you can implement immediately

  1. Forget “chain of command” structures. Ask people at every level of the business how they’re doing and if they have any suggestions for company improvement
  2. Benchmark your company’s performance against the best performer in your industry, and ask yourself how their people look different than yours
  3. Write down the name of one person who you need to have a reality discussion with and set the date for it to happen
  4. Develop a multipronged exit strategy for your Wrong Fits.

In Summary

Everyone makes hiring mistakes. Smart companies recognize and act on the problem quickly.  Here are the steps to take

  1. Warn them
  2. Act as their reality advisor
  3. Strategize about your options
  4. Cut your losses

Wrong fits are very expensive and they damage your culture.  It’s up to you to take action!

Recommended Resources:

Uncover your strengths and weaknesses with our complimentary assessment. Boost your effectiveness at work and with your team.

Free Resource Library: Access our extensive collection of valuable resources for instant support in your personal and professional growth.

Explore Our Course Library:

Enhance your leadership skills with our diverse selection of courses. Take your abilities to the next level and become a more effective leader and team player.


Our Clients Love the Professional Leadership Institute

Your team will, too! Check out some reviews from our students.
The PLI program was invaluable to our network.
The range of topics delivered, the open dialogue, experience, and examples that PLI brought to each session were outstanding and provided a path for our Franchisees and Managers to look at leadership, coaching, and connecting with their teams in a new light. Many have implemented these strategies in their bakeries and have seen immediate results.
Michelle C.
COBS Bread
Highly recommend to help your team move forward
We have locations around BC and Alberta, so getting people on the same page can be very difficult... Until now. Our entire management team and location managers take the same great courses and then meet monthly online with our coach to apply it to our situation. People are engaged, the courses are excellent, we love our coach, and we are all learning together!
Jason Fawcett
President, Kelson Group
The result has been a transformation of our culture. 
We decided to implement PLI's strategies across the country in over 150 locations and over 3500 employees.  The result has been a transformation of our culture.  People's lives have been positively impacted - professionally and personally.  Morale is high and sales and profits are up as a result.
Daryl Verbeek
Daryl Verbeek
We’ve learned how to fix ongoing personnel issues once and for all
The roadmap laid out set our business up to quintuple in sales.  We've learned how to fix ongoing personnel issues once and for all, attract top talent, and spend our time focused on results, not internal staffing problems.  I highly recommend PLI to you - it's worked for us!
John DeJong
Satisfied Client
I had no idea that running a business could be this fun!
In less than 18 months of working with Trevor, he has transformed my business from being average to exceptional, where mediocrity is not acceptable, where being great is standard.  Working with PLI has allowed me to realize my dream of not simply owning a job, but owning a business.
Justin Bontkes
Principal, Caliber Projects
Our culture has taken major steps forward this year
Our culture has taken major steps forward this year with Trevor’s help.  He is funny, relatable, and his tools are very very practical and have helped us focus and upgrade our teams throughout our retail network. Trevor recently spoke to an employee group, and one person remarked, “I could listen to Trevor all day.”   We would highly recommend Trevor.
Stan Pridham
Founder, KMS Tools
The results have been remarkable
At first, we resisted, “This just won’t work with a law firm.” But we persisted and the results have been remarkable: our client base and profits have steadily improved, and staff engagement and morale is the healthiest its ever been.
Doug Lester
Partner, RDM Lawyers
Helped our fast-growing business become what it is today
I've experienced PLI's approach first hand and it's been crucial to sustaining our growth.  I can't imagine a business that wouldn't benefit greatly from his help.
Brian Antenbring
Founder, TEEMA
Provided practical ways to make positive changes
Trevor was incredibly well-received by the entire organization. He was able to articulate people issues that many of our franchisees were experiencing and provided them with practical ways to make positive changes. We have implemented the Star Chart tool across the organization and see it as vital to building happy, effective teams.
Aaron Gillespie
President, COBS Bread
Scroll to Top

Start Learning Today

For Individuals

Unlock your potential and accelerate your career with sought-after management and leadership skills.


Transform Your Organization

For Teams

Book a consultation to discuss your challenges and discover how we can help you build a winning team.


Sign Up For Weekly Tips!

Get Weekly Coaching Tips Straight To Your Inbox Every Monday.