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Take Your Time When Making Hard Decisions

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I was recently working with an advisory firm owner who wanted to fire one of her employees.

Now, as you may know, after many years of working with advisory firms, I’ve come to the belief that firing someone should be an owner’s last option, taken only after all other attempts to salvage the situation have failed. However, sometimes it is necessary, and this owner had decided that time had come.

I’ve also learned that when you fire someone is important. As it was a Thursday that this owner had come to her decision, I suggested she wait until Monday to do the firing.

Of course, the next day, Friday, she calls to tell me that she “just wanted to get it over with” and had fired the employee that day. (If I had a dollar for every time my clients don’t listen). And, of course, I got a call the following Monday from her, telling me that she felt she had made a terrible mistake — that she couldn’t undo.  

(Related: What to Look for When Hiring Young Planners)

Most owners of independent advisory firms wear many hats. But the most important job they have is making decisions. That’s because small businesses (and even the largest of the independent firms is still a “small business”) have limited resources and, consequently, can’t afford to waste them on bad ideas or hasty decision making.

Unfortunately, making good decisions usually isn’t easy.

To make better decisions, I advise firm owners to have a decision-making process that works for them. However, the process should include a rule that they give themselves time to think about important decisions after they have been made to ensure it’s the right decision for them.

Firing someone is right at the top of the list of important, and difficult, decisions.

There are many reasons why letting a member of your staff go is hard. Here are the top three:

1) They aren’t going to like it. Most of us are hardwired to want to make other people happy, and to avoid upsetting them. We all are well aware that firing someone isn’t going to make them happy. Letting someone go falls well into the very-uncomfortable-conversation category.

2) It disrupts the staff. Losing a co-worker is almost always unsettling. It changes the office dynamic, disrupts workflow and routine, and reminds everyone that jobs aren’t permanent. It also usually means that someone new will be joining the team, creating uncertainty about what effect they will have. Even when the person leaving wasn’t popular with the rest of the staff, the new uncertainties will take some time for everyone to come to grips with.

3) You can’t take it back. Most decisions that business owners make are reversible, if sometimes costly. If a new service doesn’t prove popular with clients, you can discontinue it. If a marketing program doesn’t live up to expectations, you can try something else. But when you fire somebody, there’s no going back — usually the bruised egos, hurt feelings and resentment aren’t going to go away any time soon.

Consequently, faced with this looming difficult decision and uncomfortable conversation, many firm owners “just want to get it over with.” Unfortunately, that’s not a good basis for a sound decision. Often owners get so stressed about the idea of having this difficult conversation, it clouds their judgment about whether firing the employee is really the best course of action.

That brings me to the best technique that I’ve found for making good decisions, even when they are difficult. It has two steps. First, decide what you think is the best course of action. Then — and here’s the key — don’t act on it.

Instead, just decide you’re going to act on it at a specific time in the near future, say, next Monday. So you’re not going to think about it anymore, you’re just going to wait a couple days to actually implement your decision. And then just listen to how you feel about that decision during the waiting time.

This way, you take most of your emotions out of the conversation: You’re not going to have the difficult conversation for days, which frees up your thinking mind to consider if this is really the best thing to do, and frees your emotions to feel how you really feel about that. By the time Monday rolls around, you’ll have a much clearer idea of what you really want and need to do.

— Read The Face in the Mirror: Admitting (and Overcoming) Advisor Fears on ThinkAdvisor.


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