How to Fire a Staff Member

Last week I told an all too familiar story of the benevolent instructor who pretty much raises a kid in his school who seems to turn his life around as a result.

I pointed out that the student wasn’t the only liability. The instructors reluctance to release the student out of concern for his well-being made him as culpable as the student for any damage done to the school.
That message clearly hit home. Here is a sample message I received.

The Benevolent Instructor:
I just want to say how close to home you hit with that last e-mail you sent out the other day.  I have recently found myself being the benevolent instructor and let an employee damage my business, health, stress level, and family conversations for far too long.

This employee was finally released and it marked the first time I have ever had to let someone go.  She was a good person but no longer a good fit for our business.  It was really, really hard and I found myself nearly in tears once it was over.

Thank you for timing the release of that post at a time when it really helped me to finalize those feelings and be able to move on.  Thank you.

Name Withheld

Before we get into story 2 of 3 on this topic, I want to share with you the best phraseology that I’ve learned to use when letting someone go. My multiple schools had at least a half-dozen employees and running NAPMA had as many as 25 employees with some making over $200k per year.

It’s important to document all of your meetings with the employee to make sure you are building your case for termination. However, I will leave that to the HR experts and not play labor attorney.

My only advice is that when you have that final meeting and have protected yourself from lawsuits relating to discrimination, harassment, etc… you be very careful in what you say and how you say it.

In my experience, my best line has been, “Sally, as you know, we’ve been giving this the best chance we could have. You’re a good person, and you will do well, but I think we both know that this job is just not a good fit for you. It’s best we bring this to an end.”

Typically, I’d give them two weeks pay and change the door locks, website passwords, etc…. As part of the process of receiving the two weeks pay, they would have to sign a release of liability that basically says they will not sue the school or any employee from that moment on.

Firing an employee for a martial arts school owner is often more difficult than most businesses because there is often a stronger emotional history / baggage attached with the process than the local 7/11 or health club.

Next week, story two of how an owner can become a liability for his or her school.

One of You Will Be Fired!

Risk / Reward Ratio – The Most Important Perspective Lesson You Must Learn as a Business Owner

Does this seem familiar? You hire a student or student parent because he or she is so nice and really needs the job. 

In time though, you realize this is not a good fit. But, because of your good heart, you keep that person on because, “Sally is a good person and if we fire her this, this, and this will happen to her.” What you fail to address is that, “If we keep Sally on this, this, and this may happen to our school.”

Let me share with you a story from an interesting lunch my wife, and I enjoyed on a beautiful spring day in Dunedin last year. Janet and I met up with my brother Jim and a long-distance student of his. 

It think his name is Steve. Either way, he had a thriving business. Each year, he rewarded his top staff with a month-long trip to Florida which included training with Jim. Nice perk.

We enjoyed our lunch chat, and I won’t bore you with the details, but he had one employee strategy that he has used long before that Trump fellow’s TV show. 

Simply put, everyone on the staff knew that one person will be fired in October or November. Regardless of the overall success of the team, one guy is gonna go, and everyone knows it. They just don’t know who that person is.

While I’m not advocating or disagreeing with this approach, I think it keeps the focus on the purpose of the business. That is to keep the company profitable. 

As I know only too well, the owner takes all of the risks. It’s one thing to lose a job. People lose jobs all the time. It’s a completely different experience to lose everything you’ve built and saved for  because you, as the owner, has been sued into the ground for some infraction, real or imagined, that your employee did.

I had multiple employees earning over $200,000 a year. Where are they now? Living their life, of course. Their risk was only that they might lose a job I created for them. 

My risk was that their actions might spark a massive lawsuit; which is exactly what happened. There was no skin off their back, but mine was laid bare.

My point is simple. You can’t afford to carry someone whose only risk is finding a new job if you let them go versus you losing everything for their lapse of competence. 

Dismissing A Problem Employee

See All Staff Development Articles and Files.

Occasionally, despite your best effort, you’ll encounter a problem employee. This is never a fun situation, and it can put you in the difficult position of having to dismiss that employee.

It can be frustrating when you have a problem employee. After all, when you hired them they were full of such enthusiasm and promise. So what happened that would have caused them to falter in their performance?



Reasons For Employee Dysfunction
More than likely, before you get to the actual act of dismissing an employee, you will have spoken with him or her about improving their performance. Communication is the first step to solving any problem.



Perhaps your employee was unsure of how to do a job, or lacked the skills and knowledge necessary to complete the job. Believe it or not, some folks are too ashamed to admit that they don’t know how to do something. They don’t want to appear incompetent.



You can attempt to overcome this problem by making yourself as accessible as possible to your employees for questions and direction. If you are asked for help, try to be patient and understanding.

More often than not, a lack of motivation or a poor attitude is the culprit with a problem employee.

In this case, have a pointed discussion with this employee about what changes he needs to make to ensure his continued employment with your studio. 

A bad attitude can be contagious among your other staff members, or even your students. So, if you sense that this is a problem that won’t go away, you’ll need to simply eliminate the problem quickly and quietly.



Handling A Bad Habit

If, on the other hand, you have an otherwise good employee who has adopted a bad habit – say, being late on a regular basis – you might consider employing a little strategy.

Invite him into your office for one of those “hypothetical” conversations.

Explain to him that you have an employee that is not showing up to work on time. This throws the timing of the lessons off and the parent’s are starting to complain. You’ve spoken with this employee several times about his punctuality problem, yet it continues. If he were this guy’s supervisor, what would he do?

Well, naturally your employee is going to figure out that you’re really talking about him.

So, you might get a “I dunno”. However, if you continue to press him for an answer, he’ll probably suggest that you fire that employee, or fine him.

If his suggestion suits you, then tell him that will be the way you’ll handle that problem the next time it happens.

Hopefully, you’ll have thrown a scare into him and it won’t happen again.

If it does happen again, make sure you follow through on the punishment.



One Last Note About Dismissing An Employee…

If you’re lucky, your employee’s dismissal will pass quietly. However, it pays to prepare for the dismissal before letting your employee know what your intentions are. Why?

An unhappy employee can leave your school records and other important information all askew. You won’t know who owes money to you, and to whom you owe money to for the next several weeks.



In addition, attempt to diffuse the situation by explaining to the employee that he just wasn’t a good match for your school. However, you will try to help him find another job if you can. Then, send him out the door with your good wishes and a week’s severance pay.