How To Let People Go Without Disrupting Your Team 

No one likes to get fired. But when you’re a manager, you often have to contend with the other side: being the one who actually does the firing. Unfortunately, not everyone you hire is going to perform as well as advertised. As business owner Jay Goltz wrote in the New York Times, “some of my people were my greatest assets. But some of them were also my greatest liabilities, and empowering them only made them bigger liabilities, which certainly did not help my customer service.” And when your employees are actually hindering your company’s ability to grow, it’s time to let those people who are liabilities go.


But on sales teams and other teams where collaboration and teamwork are pivotal to success, letting an employee go could have a significant impact on the rest of your team. They may be working on accounts with the fired employee, or they may have a personal relationship with him or her. And firing someone will almost guarantee the rest of your team will be nervous about losing their jobs too, even if they know the fired employee was underperforming. Furthermore, being understaffed—even if it’s short term—will almost certainly require your team work harder and longer hours when they’re already feeling nervous about their jobs.

So how do you let someone go without derailing the rest of your team?

1.  Be as transparent as possible about performance. If someone on your team is underperforming, it’s pretty hard to hide, especially on sales teams and other results-oriented teams. Nevertheless, be transparent with everyone about performance, both individual and collective. Meet with your employees as much as possible, both one-on-one and as a group. Make results public. Make the conversation around performance ongoing. That way, there’ll be no surprises when someone is disciplined or let go.

2. Fire the employee as nicely as possible. Is there such thing as “nice” firing? Entrepreneur Margaret Heffernan thinks so.  (As long as they’re being fired for underperforming and not for a misdemeanor.) Heffernan suggests taking time to help the soon-to-be-fired employee understand how their personal goals and ambitions would be better suited to another position. She also suggests managers offer to help ease the transition, like offering the employee to stay on while they look for a new job. That way, not only will it be easier for you actually fire them, but there’s also less of a chance the exiting employee will spook the rest of your team with horror stories of how they were unjustly ousted.

3. Make sure all your employees understand why their co-worker was let go. Set some time aside to meet with your whole team and properly explain why their coworker was let go. Listen to their concerns and be explicit that their coworker was fired for performance, not because you have a vendetta against them.

4. Start searching for a replacement as soon as possible. Don’t leave too long before you start searching for a replacement; it’s you and your employees’ who’ll have to pick up the slack when you’re short a person. Take the time to find someone who’ll be a better fit for the position, but start searching for them as soon as possible.


Lisa Skapinker is a freelance writer in Toronto. Previously, she worked in marketing for several Internet and cloud startups, including Rypple, B5Media, and GaggleUp. Lisa is a regular contributor to The Grindstone, where she writes about career issues for women. Lisa holds an honors BA in English Literature from Dalhousie University and an MA in Media Studies from The New School.