Firing a person is one of the most difficult things that a leader has to do. Perhaps you need to release a person because of a character deficiency, a competence issue, or a giftedness miss. Seminary didn’t teach you how to fire a person, so here are 6 principles to guide you through the pain!
1. Realize: What is Best for the Organization is also Best for the Individual.
When coaching leaders, I often hear, “I know I need to let this person go, but it is going to be really hard on him.” I get it. You are amazingly compassionate…. but this flawed thinking. Keeping a person in a role that he is unqualified for, not gifted to do, or does not have the character for is cheating both the organization and the person. It is not your place to protect a person from real life or to keep him in an area where he is not gifted. God is sovereign over both the organization and the person. Free him for what he is ultimately gifted to do. What is best for the organization, is also ultimately best for the person.
2. Don’t Do it Alone.
Letting a person go in a church situation can create quite a few waves. The wise leader does not make this decision alone. Involve key decision makers in the process. Once the decision has been made, quickly bring into the loop a few key people who need to know that this is coming. Key question: Who do I not want to be surprised by this?
3. Move quickly.
When letting a person go, Dragging out the process is good for no one. Phasing a person out over months is almost always a bad decision. Pull off the bandaid. No matter what he says, a person on the way out is not investing relationally or moving the organization forward. The shorter the transition period, the better. Do everyone a favor and never allow a transition to go any longer than 30 days.
4. Give a Generous Severance.
In a church, a staff person’s relationships, spiritual life, and paycheck are all wrapped up in one place. It is unfair and unwise to fire a church staff person and give him two weeks of severance. You will seldom regret going above and beyond in giving severance. Treat a person that you are releasing with dignity and generosity. Take care of his family. You won’t regret it.
(Note to Business leaders: The whole severance thing is different in the church world than in the business world)
Two exceptions to this rule: A very recent hire or an extremely divisive person
5. Ask for Positive Communication.
It is perfectly appropriate in a church context to ask that a person who is being let go not gossip or create disunity. I am not suggesting that the person should be unable to communicate the truth, but I am suggesting that you not continue to pay a person that insists on tearing down the church on the way out. Communicate carefully and without manipulation.
Example: “We want to take care of you and your family with a generous severance package. Our hope and expectation is that you will honor Christ and His church by carefully communicating about this. We are not asking you to withhold truth but to be wise with your words given New Testament exhortations toward Church unity. We will speak honorably about you and also ask that you be careful to not damage the work that God is doing through this church.”
6. Realize that a Person that you Let Go will often be Unhappy in the Short-term.
I once heard Larry Osborne say “When you fire a church staff person, they WILL leave the church and they WILL take their friends.” When you let a person go, they might not be happy for a little while. You wouldn’t be either if you were let go. But if you treat a person with dignity, generosity, and respect when letting him go, his tension will often expire and your relationship will not suffer in the long-term. I have rich relationships with people who I have let go in the past. Some have even come back and thanked me.