Project Practitioners > Fire 10% of Your Staff, NOW

Fire 10% of Your Staff, NOW

By Chris Cook, PMP

READ TIME: 4 minutes


The holidays are behind us. For some, this time represents seeing family for the first time in a while. Others, it is another get together with different decorations.

For me, I have not been home since July 2017. Over the course of those six months, I have physically changed. In my mother’s eyes, I have become ‘too skinny.’ She has always said our family is big boned. Therefore skinny is not an option.

I used to believe this notion. It was an easy excuse that fit the narrative I was telling myself. I am bigger than most because of biology, duh. As I started to make changes, I realized this fallacy of ‘big boned.’ The Body Mass Index (BMI) applies to me just like everyone else. I do not have a special body type that warrants a special grading curve to fit my neat, little picture in my mind.

This example is not some humble brag. I want to apply this mindset to management. Companies are always looking for an edge to become more effective and efficient. Efficiency relates to lean operations. How can you get the most out of the least?


Just like the human body, excess fat in an organization is not good. There is no reason to carry dead weight for the sake of continuing your narrative. It may feel good to announce that you have ten employees working for you. That statement appears like success. As you continue to add more employees, your success becomes greater (in your mind). Is more necessarily better?


Jack Welch, the former chairman and CEO of General Electric, believes you should fire 10% of your workforce each year. Think of your organization. If there are 50 people in the office, can you not think of five people you could easily fire? Of course, you can.

If you do not have the metrics, think of the drama some bring. Whether it is showing up late because traffic, kids, car breaks down, and so on, these events take a toll on a team, which directly impacts a project. Reliability cannot be emphasized enough. In construction, showing up is 80% of the job. Find someone who is on-time, performs during their shift, and has their tools ready for work. Oddly enough, this combination can be difficult to find.


Some may say this firing process is a reflection of your hiring process. How can you continue to fire individuals you may have just hired? The answer is simple. The quest to find the best never ends. There will always be underperformers. If you set the bar high, underperformers may actually be top-end performers elsewhere. Your loss is their gain, which is fine.

Training the underperformers becomes an emphasis on this style of management. You are trying to get these individuals to upgrade their skills. It is possible. Or, on the contrary, you can find someone that has the skills, hire him or her, and fire the underperformer.


In both camps, the idea remains the same. Find the best people and continue to improve.

Taking action is the final and most difficult step. You can get caught up in the drama of someone having problems at home, so you continue to keep him or her because you feel bad. Kind of like deciding to have a child, there is never a perfect time to fire someone.

By keeping someone negative on the team, it sends a terrible message. If you are willing to deal with this drama and back-and-forth, you definitely cannot lash out towards individuals performing. You may also see a dip in performance from people who generally do well. Why show up on time and give your best efforts when this other person is late and goes on social media all day yet nothing is done about it?

This lack of action leads to team members questioning your decision making. It is such an obvious choice to be made yet you continue to let it fester. What other issues are you letting slide because the action is difficult to take?

If this take is too drastic, start to quantify your team. Begin to layout who performs well and who performs poorly. Give quarterly reviews as part of your continuous improvement process. Once you start to see the differentiation in performance, you take action.


My recommendation: fire the bottom 10%, NOW!

Not all comments are posted. Posted comments are subject to editing for clarity and length.

I have an alternative suggestion: don’t.

There’s a considerable amount of evidence that this method of managing employees (called “stack ranking”) consistently results in worse overall performance as people start sabotaging each other and become demoralized. See for some of that data.

Any organization that thinks that you should fire a fixed percentage any one year should probably start by applying this to senior management.

Otherwise, fire people when it is clear that can't or won't perform, or when they become disruptive. If they are not cutting it, why wait until the annual review to sack them?

The comments to this entry are closed.

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