Make Firing Employees Easier and Faster – Let Them Deselect

Make Firing Employees Easier and Faster – Let Them Deselect 150 150 Wally Hauck, PhD, CSP

Which is more valuable to an employer, the job skills employees possess or the skill of behaving with integrity. I can appreciate how this is a very unfair question. One can argue that we need both in our employees and that would be a fair statement.  Others may claim that behaving with integrity is not a skill at all but a measure of one’s character.  Job skills are worthless (as well as job knowledge) without integrity and any employer who holds onto an employee who knows a lot about the job but who has a pattern of broken integrity is costing the organization in ways that cannot be measured.

If you have ever had to manage a poor performer you know the stress it can cause and the energy it can drain from you.  To manage a poor performer, it is first necessary to have a clear definition of a poor performer. The most useful definition is: “an employee who demonstrates a consistent and frequent pattern of broken integrity.”  It is their inability or unwillingness to be have with integrity on a consistent basis that makes them a poor performer and a candidate for firing regardless of how much they know.

Adopting this definition helps make firing an employee much easier. Poor performers are shouting with their behaviors “Fire me!” They are “deselecting”. Deselecting means they are making the choice to leave you and/or your organization.  It’s their choice not yours and you merely need to help them to fulfill that wish.  You are merely deciding the timing.

There is another benefit to adopting this definition.  It enables you to take the bias out of the decision making.  With the bias out, the organization is better protected from legal action.  There are two crucial factors required for this deselection strategy to work properly.  First, an embrace of the definition of poor performer is necessary (“an employee who demonstrates a consistent and frequent pattern of broken integrity”).

Second, there needs to be a clear definition of integrity.  If the definition of integrity is clear and the definition of poor performer is clear, these two definitions work in cooperation to remove the bias.  Here is the definition of integrity I use in my business.  It has four parts and is operational.  It describes behaviors which makes it easy to observe and to measure.  The observable behaviors make it easier to remove the bias.


  • Make only agreements[1] you intend to keep.
  • Immediately communicate when you can’t keep agreements to those who need to know.
  • Admit when a mistake is made, apologize, and look at the system[2] as a team for a solution (no blame, make no excuses, no complaining).
  • When a mistake is seen from others communicate it respectfully, ask they provide a sincere apology, and work to correct it and prevent it from occurring in the future.

By adopting these two definitions a leader can influence all employees to self-manage their own agreements and to therefore self-manage their own integrity.

Anyone who willing and able to manage their agreements has the basic ability to perform. Anyone either unwilling or unable to manage their own agreements does not have a basic ability to perform.

Behaving with integrity is a basic skill and when it’s missing, the person cannot perform his or her basic duties.  Even if the person has exceptional skills in other areas, the absence of an ability or willingness to keep their own agreements will neutralize the other skills and/or knowledge.  In many respects Bernie Madoff was a knowledgeable and intelligent investor.  His lack of integrity cost his customers their money and cost him his freedom.

Recently a client needed to address concerns with one of the employees.  This employee had worked there for many years and was a bit of a trouble maker. He would often have disrespectful outbursts with co-workers. He often would refuse to follow through on agreements and would often break agreements.

It was brought to our attention by a co-worker he had threatened another co-worker with bodily harm.  He was confronted.  He admitted it and was promptly warned about the policy, and suspended for one day without pay.  When he returned to work he refused to participate in mandatory meetings, and he purposely destroyed company property in protest to his suspension.

This pattern of broken agreements and disrespect was a clear indication of deselection.  For years he had caused disturbances and the leadership would usually ignore them because his job knowledge and experience was in short supply in the industry.  Once the leadership saw the poor performance pattern, and once the organizational leadership saw the waste he was creating, it was easier to see how he was actually deselecting.

Always put integrity first as the list of skills needed to be a high performer.  Putting the job skills ahead of integrity skills will predictably cause more waste for everyone.

[1] Agreement: An activity that is specific, measurable and time sensitive and has a predictable process to achieve it.

[2] System: A series of interdependent processes that achieve an aim.

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