When is Firing not the (first) Answer?

Woman fightingI’m sitting here watching an old CSI episode.  One of the characters, Sara, is lashing out at others on the team, losing her cool during person-of-interest interviews and directly defying the boss.  He wants her fired and is angry when her supervisor, Grissom, refuses to do so.

There are three reasons Grissom refuses to fire her:

  1.  She is damn good at her job and a valuable part of the team.  Her insubordination and bad attitude is a relatively new development and out of character for her.
  2. He allowed her behaviour to continue instead of addressing it immediately.
  3. He took the time to talk to her (finally) and discovered long-buried trauma brought back to the forefront from a previous investigation was the reason for her change in behaviour.

Insubordination, lashing out at others, must be dealt with.  It can’t be ignored or it will worsen and team morale will suffer.  However even direct defiance, if a new behaviour, does not necessarily warrant immediate firing.

Before taking that drastic, final step, leaders will take a good look at themselves to ensure they did not contribute to the problem.  Were they in any way unclear as to expectations?  Did they say or do anything that gave the impression of favoritism?  Did they ask too much from the employee and not provide the support or training to meet the new demands?

Leaders will also take the time to look beyond the behaviour and try to discover a reason for the drastic change.  It’s not that they can or should take on the role of counselor, but when an employee is struggling emotionally or mentally, find a way to help them get past that barrier and back to being a productive, valued member of the team.  Giving an employee the opportunity to resolve their difficulties so their performance and behaviour can improve  is good for team morale, the organization as a whole and is bound to create a strong sense of loyalty.

There are times when the damage is too great or the necessary change in behaviour does not happen.  In that case, it’s time to part ways. If that happens, be sure your documentation is in place, call the employee in, break the news professionally, firmly and compassionately and then move on.  It’s not that firing is never the answer. It’s just not always the first answer.