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The Exit Strategy: How to Fire an Employee

“The day firing becomes easy is the day to fire yourself.” – Tom Peters

If you’re a leader, there are few things that can ruin your day more than needing to fire someone. It’s just plain hard to do, even when you know it’s the right decision. It’s not personal, it’s business. And yet, a lot of managers avoid it by default, yet doing so disrupts both the team and the business.  

When an employee is no longer a good fit for the organization (assuming there’s no clear wrongdoing), it’s crucial to examine whether onboarding, management, regular 1-1s, and performance reviews have adequately supported their development. If the answer is no, then it’s time to review and improve these processes. Not all startups operate with a full-time person in the HR seat, and often these preceding and equally important parts of the management and culture systems are not in place. 

Enter the highlighted importance of manager training, comprehensive new employee onboarding, 30-60-90+ day check-ins, feedback-rich cultures, a well-run performance review process, annual job description reviews–and all of the crucial practices and systems that set up employees for success. 

Firing can go wrong in a myriad of ways: they’re surprised, the offboarding process is not in place, necessary forms and documents are missing, key folks in the org haven’t been alerted, or there’s ambiguity.

We want to give you a simple framework on how to do terminations well. In this podcast conversation with my colleague in the coaching world, Heather Jassy, she offers us a script. Here around Reboot HQ, my colleague Virginia Bauman has a guide for firing employees that is clear, concise, and aligned to create the best experience in the event of a termination. 

Virginia Bauman’s Guide to Firing an Employee: 

  1. Know that the person’s nervous system will likely go into full alert.
  2. Be absolutely clear that it’s not a conversation. It’s information and clarity on what is about to happen so they can take care of themselves. Re-assert that it’s not the time to discuss the decision – simply tell them what is ending and what will be happening next regarding benefits, follow-up, timeline, etc. Focus on delivering everything in a crystal clear manner.
  3. Optional, but often very helpful as a context of care if the person is in the right role, to offer this: Tell them if they want to have a conversation, to reach out after they have sorted through their affairs. This saves all the judgment and reasoning for a time when the person has capacity to be curious and connected.
  4. The whole conversation should be planned to coordinate comms with the remaining team simultaneously so that leadership is messaging thoroughly and helping everyone make sense of the decision. I often encourage them to invite people who have questions to find 1 on 1 time with the appropriate leader.
  5. Get ready to get comfortable letting people make their own stories and narratives. It’s not a bad thing, it just happens. Stay honest, stay direct, and be consistent about reiterating important elements of the situation. When you can’t communicate everything, it’s okay to say so.
  6. The actual communication should be no more than 5-10 minutes. If the person wants to ask questions, reiterate it’s not a conversation. The prep for and the actual internal comms are often very very important to be rigorous and clear. So don’t neglect the remaining team when preparing for such a difficult communication with the individual being let go.
  7. Important side note: make sure to align the removal of access to systems and getting the company assets back. Sometimes this can be sudden, sometimes it’s stretched out. With early-stage folks they often haven’t set any of that up, so I like to mention it so they can begin a practice of good security hygiene. Have the leader communicate to the person being let go that it’s not a sign of a lack of trust in the person, but an important policy that is generalized across anyone who is no longer with the company.

We hope this makes terminations a little less painful and helps you lean into the hard stuff with more ease. 


Connect. Think. Lead. Adapted from the forward I wrote to a friend’s new book… Connect. Think. Do. I’d first gotten the call, an inquiry call for coaching, two weeks previous. In a follow-up…
Since Feeling is First My most favorite lines of poetry are from ee cummings: since feeling is first / who pays any attention / to the syntax of things / will never wholly kiss…
Being & Doing “What you are will show, ultimately. Start now, every day, becoming, in your actions, your regular actions, what you would like to become in the bigger scheme of things.” —…



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