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  • John Markson

How to Fire and Be Fired

Yesterday, I walked through the termination process with a Cannae HR client who was about to terminate one of his senior executives.  This is a pretty regular occurrence.  In my various roles as consultant, business owner and executive, I have had to advise on the process or personally fire hundreds of employees. Most often, I do this with a mix of regret and disappointment but admittedly, in a few well-deserved cases, with a sense of satisfaction.

Too often, I have seen the termination process botched due to the inexperience and emotion of managers, human resources and the terminating employee themselves.  Instead of being a period at the end of the employment relationship, it turns into a run-on sentence of anger, guilt, resentment and, at its worst, legal wrangling.

You can read below for my advice to terminator and terminatee or you skip what I have to say and check out a brief, entertaining, clip from the movie Money Ball which perfectly captures best practices for both parties.

For Management

  1. There is no “good” time. Monday morning, before the holidays, only in a leap year. They all are equally bad times because getting fired is no fun at any time.

  2. Don’t delay. If you are agonizing over the decision, you should have done it six months ago.

  3. Don’t delegate. An employee deserves to be fired by their direct manager – not Human Resources and/or a more senior manager.

  4. Do it alone. There is an understandable desire to have a witness for emotional support. However, unless you have reason to think the employee will be volatile after being terminated, it is more respectful and less bureaucratic to keep it one-on-one.

  5. No Need to Play Secret Service. On the subject of respect, don’t escort someone out after termination.  Let them collect their thoughts and belongings and even say goodbye to colleagues if they want (most do not).

  6. Finally, keep it short and direct. This is no time for a discussion or debate about the reasons for the termination.  The phrase “your employment is ending today” or something similar should be a part of the process and the whole thing should take no more than 3 minutes.

For An Employee Being Terminated


  1. Accept that this stinks. You are probably surprised by the termination and this is no time for discussion, recriminations, excuses, etc. Even if you have been treated unfairly, it is not to your benefit to dwell for very long on the fact – you have more important things to spend your emotional energy on – like getting a job.

  2. Accept that you have no power. Unless you have an agreement in place to pay severance or your employer has some sort of policy, you have no leverage other than your former employer’s sense of fairness.

  3. You will end up in a better role. In 90% of the terminations I have been involved in, the employee ends up in a better role within a year of the separation. Most of the remaining 10% end up not remembering the first bullet point above.

  4. Say little or nothing at all.  I know you don’t believe point 3 above but this is no time for any emotion or bridge burning.  Listen, make sure you understand if you will be getting severance and who you will talk to about benefits.  Nod your head, gather up your things and leave.

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