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Letting someone go

Sitting down with one of your people to let him go, is perhaps one of the most difficult parts of all the management tasks. And perhaps the one that is postponed the most. But it’s also the one with potentially a huge negative impact for the company.


‘Let’s wait a bit until we know more.’
'It’s not the right timing now, this will create too many problems.’
'Let’s give her an improvement plan’
'let's build a file first' 

perhaps the worst of all excuses:
‘let’s give her a consultant or a coach!

Auch! Don’t go there.


Nudging is not enough

You can talk about strategy, execution, financial engineering, sales campaigns and innovation as much as you want. But in every company, people make the difference at the end of the day. When there is a growing mismatch between the performance of someone in their current role and what you need today and tomorrow, you simply have to address this. Period. You're the person in charge and responsible to initiate and orchestrate these changes. You have to make sure that you have the best people again in their best positions. And yes, it happens that you sometimes have to fire someone as a result of this. Not nice, but it’s a critical part of your responsibility as a business leader.

Of course, business leaders are not robots. And it’s completely human to find this part very difficult. But do not let your personal emotions overwhelm you and let it delay your decision. It’s not fair to the rest of the organisation and can block the company from moving forward. It’s not even fair to the person involved. Letting someone go does not mean that the person is wrong or bad. It's just about the growing mismatch between the needs and what the person brings to the job. Make peace with that. No more, no less.


Think about this for yourself and look into the mirror. Looking back, have you ever been too quick in letting someone go? Or did you, in hindsight, perhaps wait too long, or worse, postponed it and not do it all? I bet it’s often the latter. We often tend to wait too long. While we know for some time deep in our heart that things will not change. And sometimes this can only be solved by having that difficult conversation.

Letting someone go easily goes wrong. And it needs to be done with the utmost care, preparation and needs to be well thought through beforehand. When you are letting someone go, let them leave through the front door. Treat them with all the respect that someone deserves. Thank them for their contributions. Provide career transition services if that’s appreciated. But… it should never change the decision. It’s sometimes in the best interest of the organisation to make the necessary people changes too.


Hope this inspires.


PS How often have people told me years later that their resignation turned out to be a blessing in disguise. And that they are today better off and much happier with what they are doing. Keep this in the back of your mind too. It’s not only about you and your emotions.


Paul Donkers

Paul Donkers is the founder of tèn company. A global boutique coaching and consulting firm founded in 2009. Every week they work with their clients to help them navigate through these challenging times. Let us know if you want to have a confidential conversation with Paul or one of his colleagues via This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



By Paul Donkers

"my purpose is to help improve strategy execution, to create high performing teams and coach for effective business leaders"

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