I once had a mentor who asked me, “Do you have any of the wrong people in your company?” And I said, “Yeah I’ve got one guy.”
He said, “How long have you known he’s the wrong person?”
“I’ve known for about six months,” I said.
“Why haven’t you let him go?” He asked.
“Because I like him, because he’s been really good for the last couple of years. Because I really like him and he really cares.”
“Well why do you want to let him go then?”
And I replied, “Well he’s an emotional roller coaster…”
I had all these reasons why we needed to let him go and my mentor looked at me and said, “I need you to tell me the date that you’re going to fire him.”
“OK, I’ll let him go by Friday.” This was a Tuesday morning. We were at Denny’s on Broadway.
He said, “So you’ll let him go by Friday?”
And I said, “Yeah, Friday.”
Then he said, “That’s not good enough.”
I said, “OK, I’ll let him go Wednesday.” Then he just stared at me, and said, “Chicken!”
And I said, “OK, I’ll let him go today.”
“Good. What time?”
This was 7.30 in the morning on a Tuesday. I’ve moved the firing from Friday to the very same day and he wants to know what time?! So I said, “I’ll do it by noon.”
My mentor said, “Good. Call me at 12.05pm and I’ll be there for you, but you make damn sure you’re there for him. You make sure when you’re getting this person off your bus that you respect him, and his integrity. You treat him like a person, you mentor him to help him grow in his next career. You have an obligation to him because six months ago is when you should have let him go and for the last six months you’ve been stealing from him. You’ve taken six months of this kid’s life because he didn’t want to quit because of you. He wanted to be there to be loyal to you, and because you were too chicken to let him go six months ago when you should have, you’ve taken six months of his life. So you make sure that you’re there for him.”
That was some of the hardest-hitting and best learning I’ve ever had in business. Hard to hear, easier to execute.
We both cried when I had to let him go that day.
I actually drove back to the office that day and I walked into the office and put my briefcase down and said, “Can I grab you?” I hadn’t even sat down, but my mind was finally committed to do the right thing for the company and for him. I received emails and Facebook messages from the guy I let go even five or six years after it happened, “Hope you’re well. How are the kids? How’s Australia?”
The moral of this story is that you simply must get the wrong people out of your organization in the right way in order to build a very powerful culture. If you remove people from your organization in the wrong way, you’ll destroy your culture.