If you can’t fire an employee you can’t manage staff

Firing staff is never easy. But if you have decided to run your own business then this will be part of what you will be required to do.

Here’s how to conduct positive feedback conversations with staff and effectively manage employees that aren’t performing satisfactorily;

So many business owners are nervous and apprehensive about conducting what is commonly known as a ‘difficult conversation’.

Just the name invokes an image of emotional and argumentative conversations and the more a business owner anticipates just such a conversation, the more likely they are to behave in a defensive or even possibly aggressive manner and create the very results they feared.

And let’s be real. If an action feels difficult then there are always plenty of reasons why the conversation never seems to take place.

Failing to tackle issues immediately undermines your authority

All business owners, have many competing deadlines to meet so it is easy to convince yourself that they are not actually that bad (when they are) and there is always the hope that they will somehow improve by themselves. But the reality of the situation is that if you cannot fire your staff then you cannot manage them.

If you are seen to be avoiding the conversation power will pass from you to them. And the worst type of employee will begin to exploit the situation. They will see other staff misbehaving with no action being taken and interpret that as permission to do the same and similarly ‘get away with it’.

Slowly, over time, your staff will stop listening to you as they lose the respect they should be holding for you as their manager. And good staff with leave. After all why should they remain and cover for individuals who are failing to fulfill their job roles properly?

But this situation can be changed.

Feedback conversations don’t need to be ‘difficult’

Difficult conversations can be easy and straightforward to complete. Do not be taken in by the dramatic name or the fear expressed by other business owners and managers.

Fire WellThese necessary conversations can be generous, meaningful, transformative and most importantly beneficial to both yourself and the individual concerned. But just how can such positive results be achieved from informing an individual they are failing in some way?

The first is to recognise is that most poor performing staff have not consciously set out to behave in this way. Something happened: they changed; the job changed; it was not the right job for them from the start; an outside issue affected how they behaved.

Consequently, over time they fell into a pattern of behaviour which is now negative and working against them and you. They are now simply running on auto pilot. You, as their manager, an outsider observer, will be able to see this and can therefore inform them of exactly what is happening, how they are behaving and what their attitude has become.

Once the individual has this knowledge they can decide to change, improve and become more successful and happier in their work. This could within their current job role or may only achieve by leaving and working elsewhere. Either way a most important task has been completed; that they have become happy, fulfilled and therefore successful in their work.

How good could your business be if all staff were working to their full potential?

Consider what your team would be like if every individual was happy and working at their very best? What would you be experiencing as the owner of such a business? What kind of results would be achieved? What growth would be possible in just a year? What type of new employees would you be able to attract to join you? This is the difference being a strong and effective manager can make.

Creating just such a winning team is not difficult but it will take time and planning to complete these feedback conversations. Here are 7 steps to take:

1. Get some support

Find someone to support and mentor you through the process. Situations can become emotionally charged at times and a calm and objective outside voice is very valuable. Ensure that they believe these types of conversations to be easy and straightforward and that they are experienced.

2. Observe and gather evidence

Observe the individual’s behaviour and begin to gather evidence of what they are doing and the impact it is having on the team. Be precise, is it a tone of voice? An attitude? Keep observing and thinking until you have identified what it is that is required to be changed.

3. Identify positive aspects

In your observations also note what they are doing well and particularly where their natural talents and enthusiasm lie. In some cases it may be in areas outside of their current job role. This is important information to inform the individual during the conversation.

4. Be respectful and calm

Hold the conversation being respectful of them throughout. Be calm, open minded and very clear in your communication.

5. Carefully phrase your points

A good way to introduce more difficult subjects such as poor attitude is to say ‘my perception is…’ followed by evidence as to why you believe this to be so.

If they deny it then accept their statement but go onto say ‘but why should I have gained this impression?’ and ‘if I came to this conclusion maybe other people have too’. This can lead onto a conversation about they can alter their behaviour in the future in order to give others a better perception of themselves.

6. Be balanced

Always be truthful and balanced in your feedback. Admit to any action you have taken that may have contributed to the situation, just as you would wish the individual to admit and own actions that they have taken. Congratulate and thank them for what they have done well.

7. Convey your desire for them to be happy

Have the whole purpose of the conversation to be working towards is them being happy and successful in their work, be that with you or elsewhere. Make sure they recognise that you are actually on their side.


To build a successful business and manage a great team conducting positive feedback conversations is an essential skill to acquire. Do so and you will be able, calmly and with confidence, to discuss and resolve any people issue that arises and have any staff that do leave speak well of yourself and the company.

About the author

This guide has been written for ByteStart by Sue Ingram, author of ‘FIRE WELL – How to fire staff so they thank you’. Sue has spent over 27 years working in HR and related fields and is now a Director of Converse Well. Sue regularly writes for ByteStart about managing staff, and her advice includes;

More help on managing and motivating staff

For guidance on other employment issues, try some of ByteStart’s other guides;

And for tips and ideas on how to motivate and reward staff;

Bytestart Limited info@ByteStart.co.uk

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