I recently read the following: “People often regret not getting rid of problem staff soon enough”. This struck me as emblematic of everything wrong with business advice. It was glib, unsupported by evidence, and designed to resonate with our biases. Sure some managers will probably regret keeping some staff. On the other hand other managers will regret getting rid of staff too early. (Some managers should regret firing staff too soon but won’t regret it as they never see the great contribution the person could have made). Firing employees as soon as they make a mistake is usually terrible advice for the company, as well as often causing unnecessary pain for those who find themselves fired.
It is remarkable that the comedic trolls in Disney’s Frozen seem to give better advice than many managerial writers. They tell us: “People make bad choices if they’re mad, or scared, or stressed.” (Disney, Song: Fixer Upper, 2013) The trolls realize it is often situations that bring the best, or worst, out of people. It is usually much easier to change a situation than change a person. It’ll probably be cheaper, and less unpleasant for everyone, to try and change an employee’s job environment than constantly replace employees dropped into no-win roles.
My guess is that our tendency to ascribe successes and failures to the person, rather than the environment, is at the heart of many managerial decision making mistakes. All the problems of your company can’t be solved with a magical firing. Better to turn to the advice of real expert managerial thinkers. Ask yourself: What would the trolls from Frozen do? Maybe the employee you are about to fire has got a few flaws but really is just a bit of a fixer-upper. Change the situation, and view the person in the right light, and maybe they’ll be just what your company needs.
P.S. I have two young daughters.
Watch: Frozen, (2013), Walt Disney Animation Studios