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Hire Slow. Fire Fast. Know When to Let Go.

Posted January 6, 2020

Tonya Lanthier, RDH

The Job Title With No Roadmap

Owning your own business comes with so many moving parts. Some are rewarding, while others – like dealing with hiring, managing, and firing people – are a drag.

If only there were an instruction manual that they’d hand out at your dental school graduation on all the non-dental jobs you will need to perform to run a successful dental practice. The truth is, as a dentist and leader, you’re often left to go it alone in creating operational guidelines, choosing a business model, finding a mentor, and developing leadership skills.

As a business owner myself, I know there’s nothing better than waking up in the morning, looking in the mirror and saying, “Hello, boss!” But right behind it comes the nagging questions that haunt us – “Are we going to make payroll? How do we recover our collections? What do I do about a specific team member’s attitude or absenteeism?”

Just Let Them Go Already

I hear at least three to five times a week from dentists, “I need to fire an employee. They are doing such-and-such, and have become a problem.” Yet, even when we know a person is toxic, we procrastinate. We choose to ignore the problem or fail to set boundaries of what is acceptable in our own offices. We don’t show them what is acceptable behavior, or tell them what we expect of them. We put up with what Bob Pritchett, author of Fire Someone Today, calls the Whiners, Slackers, Incompetents, Troublemakers, Misfits, and Redundants. Here’s how they break down:

The Whiner: This person is only happy when unhappy. This person is not receptive to constructive criticism. The whiner is relentlessly complaining and sucking the joy and energy from the office.

The Slacker: You will usually find slackers all over the office… finding ways to avoid or drag out their work obligations. They may be standing in the break room chatting away while on the clock, hiding in the x-ray closet with a tabloid magazine, or at their desk surfing the internet.

The Incompetent: This person is often well-behaved, eager to please, and disciplined in their work. They just don’t do it very well.

The Troublemaker: This person stirs up discontent and actively works to create, “Us vs. Them” divisions throughout the office between you and your employees, between individual team members, and even between the office and certain patients.

The Misfit: This person is just in the wrong place. They may not have the same core values or be a good culture fit. They may have a good attitude, good work habits, and even great skills, but just don’t have the “it” needed to be the key to success on your team.

The Redundant: This team member may just not be necessary when one person could do the job instead of two. Sometimes a redundant person can be moved into other positions. It is important to see them for what they are. It doesn’t do them any favors keeping them around when their growth opportunities are potentially limited.

Have I Done Everything I Could to Set the Employee Up For Success?

Before firing someone, make sure to first ask yourself these questions.

Did I…

…clearly explain the position and what is required of the employee?

…provide onboarding and training, and clarify our procedures?

…conduct informal reviews of performance and outline areas that need improvement?

…discuss conflicts and differences with coworkers and try to resolve them?

…ask the team member what they think of their performance and if they think they could improve?

If the answer is yes to these questions, then you should not hesitate any longer. These are important steps to helping your team members succeed, but if you’re thinking of firing them, chances are you’ve taken these steps already. In your heart and head, you already know that it is time for them to go. Follow your instinct. It’s in everyone’s best interest that you do – this includes your office, your team, and even your soon-to-be former employee. Certain employees may call for consulting an attorney.

Just Get It Over With: Procrastinating Wastes Everyone’s Time

Why are we so reluctant to fire people? There are lots of reasons, but none of them help you, your team or your soon-to-be former employee. First, it’s not easy to admit that we made a mistake hiring. After investing so much time and money in filling a position, it seems like a personal failure. Plus, the thought of starting all over again and how it will affect the day-to-day schedule in the immediate term is something we dread. And, lastly, it just feels mean.

We want to protect our investment, our presumptuous feelings of parental responsibility, our time and energy, even our reputation for “being nice.” Out of concern, we sometimes take on too much responsibility for the team member and think that we are protecting them from financial difficulty, emotional distress, and embarrassment. But these reasons and excuses are self-focused and not employee-focused. In reality, we’re just prolonging the inevitable. The compassionate leader knows that letting them go is the best thing for the team and the employee. Why not get it over with so everyone can move on?

The Damage We Do When We Put Off A Firing

A poorly performing employee usually has a gut feeling that we are not satisfied with their performance. They can often feel the disappointment of their co-workers and boss. When we do not fire team members who need to be fired, we are letting them suffer, and the rest of the team suffers, too. We are also sending well-performing team members the message: “You do not need to do a good job. Your poor performance will be tolerated.” It’s demoralizing for the superstars who are crushing it!

So, do yourself and your soon-to-be-former employee a favor–get it over with now so everyone can move onward and upward!

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