Does a CEO have the right to fire an employee down the chain?

Of course.

As you scale, you’ll have more formal processes here and in particular, around who and how to terminate an employee. Get a great HR professional on board as early as you can, maybe even by employee #50.

But one suggestion when you are small — have whomever is “best” at firing, fire an employee.

What I mean is that firing an employee is very hard. Legally, sometimes it’s not hard, especially in places like California with at will employment. But it’s very hard on most people to fire someone. It wrecks them.

So if the CEO is the most experienced in terminations, often she or he should consider handling terminations even for non direct reports in the early days.

And folks that have never terminated anyone are often unintentionally very hard on the employee being fired. They ramble, they blame themselves, they dredge up mistakes … and they confuse the employee. Which is inadvertently mean. By the time it comes to unfortunately terminate an employee solely for performance, outside of legal considerations, “blame” doesn’t matter. It’s in the past. And it’s all your fault as CEO and hiring managers anyway. You picked that person. You failed more than they did. They usually did their best, it just isn’t the right fit. That’s on you more than them.

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In my very first start-up job, the morning I walked in, my CEO was a wreck. He had to fire a senior executive. I’d never fired anyone before. But I took it. The same thing happened with the second CEO I worked for. She was a wreck when it came time to fire someone. She’d spent an entire week working on a script, roll playing in, worrying about it. It was debilitating.

What I learned is when you are small, sometimes, whoever can best do it, needs to do it. It’s never fun. But it’s easiest on the employee being terminated, the company, and everyone if whomever can best do it, does it.

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Published on May 20, 2018

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