[September 30, 2021] CEO Roundtable Discussion Summary

Top six excuses for avoiding firing someone you should and why they are wrong

  1. “My HR director told me firing people is illegal in Japan.”
    • This is patently untrue.
    • It is legal to fire people in Japan, as long as you do it right.
    • The last time an HR director told a CEO client of mine that it is illegal to fire people in Japan, he fired his HR director—justifiably.
    • If your HR director ever tells you it is illegal to fire people in Japan, you should do the same.
  2. “My head of legal told me I don’t have just cause to fire, and we might be sued in court.” Two real examples from my clients are below.
    • CEO client of mine was told he does not have just cause to fire an employee who made a veiled threat against a colleagues life. Whether serious or in jest, who knows?
    • A head of school client of mine was told by the school’s labor lawyer she did not have just cause to fire a teacher who had approached a year 12 high school student privately and asked if he could photograph her.
    • Lawyers and legal department staff tend to have exaggerated ideas of what is unacceptable risk.
      1. What is the business risk of keeping an employee on staff who has threatened the life of another? How does that compare to the risk of a losing a possible legal battle and financial exposure?
      2. What about keeping the teacher on staff?
      3. Do you think in either case, that the fired employee would opt to be the plaintiff in a law suit, in which all testimony and evidence will be entered into the public record, even if he is convinced he can win the court case? Even winning such cases is far from certain.
      4. The labour authorities in Japan tend to side with businesses, not employees, and have little patience for frivolous complaints.
  3. “I don’t have anyone to immediately replace the person.”
    • How do you know?
      1. In my experience, bad managers mask the talent of stuff.
      2. Someone nearly always steps up and turns out to be an undiscovered asset.
    • The success of your business should never depend on any single person, including you!
      1. No one is or should ever be irreplaceable.
      2. You should have a contingency plan for critical people, and not just for the case of firing! People:
        • get sick
        • leave for personal reasons
        • need to take time off
        • get called away for a family emergency
        • die (God forbid!)
      3. I always ask, what would you do if this person just quit?
        • I’d be relieved
        • We’d see what staff can do to support in the interim
        • I might take on some leadership and guidance myself temporarily
        • I would get support from resources in our regional office in the interim, even if they need to work with us remotely.
      4. Would the business fail? No? So fire the person! What are you waiting for?
  4. “If I fire this person, everyone else will quit.”
    • Never seen it happen in practice.
    • Most people are relieved when mediocre colleagues are fired.
    • Only other mediocre people get nervous.
    • Mediocre people never quit. They’re too afraid never to find another job.
    • The excellent however will quit immediately if they have a mediocre boss or have to work with mediocre colleagues.
    • Coddle the mediocre and you will drive the excellent away.
  5. “If I fire this person, my business’s reputation will suffer and I will lose customers, and candidates for employment won’t want to work here.”
    • Never seen it happen in practice.
    • No customer who is benefitting from a business relationship with you will quit doing business with you because you chose to terminate a non-performing employee.
    • Most of your customers have the same kind of problem of their own, and can sympathize.
    • You customers don’t like working with your mediocre people.
    • Excellent people never worry they will be fired for non-performance.
  6. “He works so hard. I should really give him another chance.”
    • How many customers must you lose?
    • How many excellent employees must resign?
    • How much should your other managers, staff and colleagues have to suffer?
    • How bad must your customer service get?
    • When is enough enough?

Now, consider these questions.

  1. What excuses have your managers made for not firing someone?
  2. What excuses have you made?
  3. What experiences have you had?
  4. Have you ever hesitated to fire someone and then regret it?
  5. Have you ever fired someone and wondered why on earth you had not acted earlier?
  6. Knowing how and when to fire an employee is part of any managers job. How well versed in this are your manager?