Letting Go: 5 Ways to Fire a Staff Member in a Healthy Way

YOU’RE FIRED! Remember the show The Apprentice? When Donald Trump would look people right in the eye and point at them and say, “YOU’RE FIRED”? If you’re a leader, you have probably found yourself saying that to someone in your mind but trying to figure out how to fire a staff member in a healthy way. After all, as a pastor or Christian leader, you don’t have the luxury of just heartlessly firing someone. 

However, we also do not have the luxury of just allowing our organizations to suffer because someone on our team is incompetent, toxic, or lackadaisical. As the leader of your team, department, or organization, you are accountable to the stewardship of it. Most of the time, this word stewardship is viewed through a financial lens. And while this is certainly applicable, we are just as accountable in how we steward the staff. And in some ways, the two are diabolically connected. It is a pretty safe bet that the largest line on your expense column is your payroll expenses. 

As pastors we not only are shepherds to the congregational flock, but we are also responsible to shepherd those who also collect a paycheck. But we have to do both in a Christ-like manner. We represent the hands and feet of Jesus, but we also represent the Bride of Christ, His Church. 

So how do we do it then? Let me offer you five things to consider when you are faced with the challenge of firing someone. 

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1. Be cautious

If you haven’t already fired the person, chances are you are pretty good at this one and need to move on to the other two things below. However, it is an important one to add to the list. Here are a few things to consider as you cautiously move forward with this process. 

  • We move cautiously to ensure that we are not making this decision out of our emotions. 
  • We have seen a continuous pattern in behavior that does not align with our values as an organization. 
  • We have met with them on numerous occasions with clear and concise directives and action plans to correct the behavior or performance and yet the pattern continues. 
  • We have sought counsel from our oversights, peers, or other leadership personnel around us. The Bible says there is wisdom in a multitude of counsel, so we have done so. 
  • We are also cautious in making sure we have documented the behavior, as well as documenting our meetings with the individual, the warnings and patterns that are not acceptable. The only thing worse than a bad employee is getting sued by one after they leave. 

2. Be quick

I love what my good friend and brilliant consultant Sam Chand always says, “hire slowly and fire quickly.” If you’re like me, many times we do the opposite. We have a vacancy that needs to be filled as soon as possible. So, we move quickly to fill the gap, only to turn around weeks or months later and realize we may have settled. Whereas when it comes to firing, we move so slowly. We question ourselves over and over, refusing to pull the trigger. We talk ourselves into giving the person “one more chance,” even though we’ve already given them five chances. We even pray and ask God to just move them out, so I don’t have to do a hard thing (Don’t judge me, I know I’m not the only one that has done that!). As pastors, we are in the people business. Wanting to see people transformed and changed, so we delay, delay, delay. Waiting to see if they might possibly change. However, in our heart of hearts, we know this is not going to work out. 

Hey leader, after step one of “being cautious,” be quick! It will not be easier tomorrow. Dreading the moment will not make it go away. I have found that the dread of the moment rarely measures up to the moment. It will be hard, but it will not be as hard as waiting. Find the courage to be quick.

3. Be caring

If you haven’t already fired the person, it’s because this last one comes most naturally to you. You are caring. Okay, I’m going to say something really strong here—are you ready? Sometimes we think not firing them is caring, but it’s actually cowardice. If we truly cared for them, we would know that God has better for them somewhere else. By never confronting it, we enable them to remain in a place where they are not thriving. Our inability to confront might actually be holding them back from where God will truly empower them and use them.

4. Care for the organization

When you make it a priority to care for the organization first, you realize that deciding quickly is critical to the health of the entire body. Imagine you went to the doctor and were told there was cancer in your body, but then the doctor said he was going to wait 3-6 months to remove it. What do we know about cancer? It spreads and it slowly kills anything it comes into contact with. An employee in your organization that is toxic spreads toxicity. An employee that does not meet expectations and keeps their job, will soon be copied by others. 

Caring for your body as a whole, you would tell the doctor that you want this cancer removed as quickly as possible. Seeing the health of the entire organization as your primary role will help you gain the courage to cut out the cancer. Yes, there is blood in surgery, and there is a healing season that follows, but it’s better to bleed quickly in surgery then to die slowly with cancer. 

Last but not least, you care for the organization by being honest with it. In a caring, honoring way, you announce that this person has transitioned off of the team and we honor them and protect them with our words in every way. Hiding a departure from the organization creates rumors and might even be more harmful than the person remaining on the team. As a leader, trust is everything.   

5. Care for the individual 

First of all, when we walk out step number one of “being cautious” we are showing that we care for the individual. But when the time comes to let the individual go, we “care” by making sure they are “cared for.” These are real people, with real families that we must steward well in their time of transition. There are many options here to consider and you should consult with your HR department, CPA, or perhaps legal counsel. It might include things like a generous severance, insurance coverage for a period of time, or an offer to give a letter of recommendation for their next employment journey. Regardless of what you do, how you do it will be even more critical. You’re a pastor, surely you’re good at this part or you might need to find a new profession. 

Leadership is hard. But as a leader, you do hard things. It’s what you do. So, forward this article to your leadership team. Meet in the next week and pull this trigger.

Be Cautious, Be Quick, and Be Caring. But do not wait any longer. Your organization will be better because of it. And God will honor it because you were cautious, quick, and caring.

Dr. Jon Chasteen
Dr. Jon Chasteenhttps://collective.tku.edu
Dr. Jon Chasteen is the President of The King's University and the Lead Pastor at Victory Church in Oklahoma City.