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How to Prepare to fire an Executive Director

Updated on January 28, 2015

How to Fire an Executive Director

When you plan to recruit an executive, you foresee a delightful portrait of her work and future endeavors in your company. You explain in details and envision how amazing it will be for her to take over your proposal and how much beneficial it will be for her to join your company comparative to others. Then comes a day when you feel that you have to get her fired from her position.

It appears that the real job to fire an executive is comparatively easier than any one else’s dismissal. Executives are usually experienced on the other side of a mutual communication and have a tendency to be a lot professional. Getting an executive fired in an appropriate way is a little more complex and quite significant. If you miss the lessons to be learnt in one such event, you might see yourself doing this again and again in future.

Similar to a lot of things, the primary thing to firing an executive in a proper way is – proper preparation. Below is mentioned the four-step procedure that will help you address the executive in a fair and just way, and also make your company better:

Step 1: Analyse the Root Cause

Even though it is likely to get an executive fired for bad code of conduct, inactive behaviour or incompetence, such instances are quite uncommon and usually simpler to deal with. However, it is highly unlikely that such reasons may come up, unless you have a clumsy and rather lousy recruitment process. At a higher degree, usually all the companies screen for the appropriate skill set, knowledge, motivation and track records. Well, it might come as a blow, but the main reason for you to get your marketing head fired doesn’t lie in the fact that they aren’t good; its because the problem is with you.

To put it differently, the improper way to envision the firing of an executive is the failure of the executive; the right way to envision the firing of an executive is the failure of the process including the interview/integration system. Hence, the initial step to appropriately getting an executive fired is to figure out why at the first place did you recruit the improper person for the corresponding job in your company.

You may have got it all wrong for various reasons:

  • You did a pitiful work in describing the job opening in the first place – If you are unaware of what you exactly want, the chances of getting it are highly unlikely. Many times it happens that CEOs recruit the executives on the basis of conceptual idea of what they see an executive to look and feel like. This frequently results in getting the executives that don’t have sufficient efficiency, knowledge and other key qualities for the job opportunity.
  • You recruited for deficiency of weak points instead of the strong points – This is quite usual when one runs an agreement-based recruitment process. The team will usually search for the candidate’s weak points, but they wouldn’t give good and sufficient importance to the strong points for which you need the executive to be of A Grade. Because of this, you recruit the executive who doesn’t have any prominent weak points, but doesn’t have any significant strong points either. With such sub-standard executives, you can not expect your company to be a world class company.
  • You recruited for the scale too early – The most inappropriate suggestion that stake capitalists and executive recruitment teams continue to give to the CEOs is to recruit the person who is much more qualified for the position, than is required. “Have a vision for the coming 3-5 years, and how much growth the company will have by that time”, is how the utterly wrong suggestion generally looks like. It is good to recruit people who can realize the fast growth of an organization if you are planning to do so. Nevertheless, if you aren’t planning such a thing, then you might require someone who can do this within the span of next 18 months. If you recruit someone who can do wonders in 18 months, but will be inadequate for the job for the subsequent 18 months, the company will have to let her go before she even gets a chance to prove herself worthy enough.
  • Your rest of the employees will be surprised: Why did we involve her in the stock options when she isn’t adding up anything? Such questions are inconceivable to get over. It appears that stake capitalists and executive recruitment team aren’t unintelligent; they only learned the inappropriate lessons from their earlier failures. To learn the correct lesson, check out the particular case of scaling and the specific case of fast growth as follows:
  • You recruited for the generic job position – There is nothing like a perfect CEO, or a perfect Marketing head or a perfect sales head. There can only be a good Sales head for your company to continue for the coming 12-24 months. This position won’t be similar to that at Facebook or Microsoft. Never check the candidate out of central casting. This isn’t any movie.
  • The executive aimed for a wrong goal – In an earlier post, I drew the dissimilarities between the aims for the company and aims for oneself. If an executive aims for wrong goal, then no matter how amazing her skills are, there are high chances that the company might reject her.
  • You went wrong in the integration of the executive – Getting a fresh person into your company on a significant position is a hard task. The remaining employees might start judging her promptly, her expectations might differ from yours, and the task may not be very well defined. Ensure that you inspect, review and enhance your integration plan once you’ve got the executive fired.

The typical case of scaling

A reasonably usual cause of getting an executive fired is that when the company grows in size manifolds, the executive is unable to cope up with the size growth and do the job properly. The rational behind this is that when company grows manifolds in size, the management tasks also grow up to new dimensions. Because of this, everyone needs to qualify again for the new and reformed job roles, as the new and the old job roles now differ to a great level. Executing a global sales organization with 200 people is obviously not similar to executing a sales team of 25 people. If luck is on your side, the person you recruited to manage the team of 25 people, might in the course of time learn to manage a team of 200 people too. If not, you would have to recruit the correct person for the new roles of the job. This can not be termed as executive failure, nor as a system failure; it can just be compared to change of life from a small town to a big city. Always take into account this development; otherwise you might always end up worsening the things more.

The typical case of fast growth

If you construct a good product and you know that market has demands for it, you will see yourself in a need to make the company grow quite rapidly. In order to ascertain your success, it is important that you recruit an executive who has learnt the growth of an organization in a quick and successful manner like yours before. Notice that this is not the case of getting a large organization in inheritance or making your way up to executing a huge company. Ensure that you recruit the executive who has the correct experience of fast growth that you are expecting. Apart from that, never recruit this person if you are not planning to invest a lot of amount for the organization growth; define your budget accordingly and let them do what they have to do. It is so crucial to have a productive executive for the fast growth for augmenting successful startups that stake capitalists and recruitment teams generally suggest the CEOs to recruit such people much before the company is ready for the growth.

Once you figure out the problem, then you can form the base for the further actions

Step 2: Letting the Board know

Letting the board know might be difficult and any issues may additionally make the task more complex:

“This is the 6th or 7th executive that you need to fire”

“This is the 4th executive that you are firing for this job position”

“One of the board members gave referral for this candidate, who was recommended as a star in his previous organization”

Notice that in all of these situations, the board will be at least reasonably appalled and unfortunately you can not do anything about it. But ensure that your options follow:

a)Notify the board

b)Facilitate the inefficient executive to stay at her job role.

Even though choice (a) sounds more difficult, it is in fact a much better option than (b). Letting the inefficient and worsening leader in the job position will lead the whole department in your company to gradually deteriorate. If you go for that option, then soon the time will come when the board will be more horrified about the situation.

You should aim for three things while dealing with the board:

Convince them to support you and understand the challenging task that you will do – You should begin by ensuring that they properly know the main reason and your plans to amend the situation. This will make them confident enough of your abilities to recruit and manage an external executive in future.

Ask them for inputs and approval over the exit process – This will be important for your further steps. Executive packages are usually more considerable as compared to the usual separation packages. Moreover, it takes more efforts for an executive to search for a new job as compared to normal employees.

Ensure that the reputation of the executive is preserved after he is fired: Usually any failure is never just the fault of one person, but more of a team’s results, and it should be portrayed in that way only. It isn’t advisable to make yourself sound more efficient at the cost of bringing someone else’s work down the gutter. A professional and mature process to address this issue will facilitate the board in maintaining their confidence on you as CEO. It also seems quite fair and adequate thing to do.

In the end, this seems to be a bit of news that is managed better with properly organized phone calls than in striking manner of discussing in a board meeting. It might elongate the process a bit, but will be worth your efforts. Making separate calls becomes especially significant if the executive had been referred by one of the board members. Once everyone is on the same page individually, you can settle down the further details over a call or in the board meeting.

Step 3: Prepare for your discussion

Once you’ve decided on the problem and told the board about it, you need to let the executive know as soon as possible. To prepare for this meeting, I suggest you either script or rehearse beforehand what you wan to tell, so that you don’t unintentionally say something wrong. The executive is going to remember this conversation for a much longer time, so it is important that you get it correct without causing any misunderstandings.

While preparing for this conversation, have a look at the performance appraisals and audits and other areas to understand well, any incompatibilities on the issues you might discuss with the executive.

Three primary ways to get it right:

  • State your reasons in a clear way:
  • Avoid beating around the bush, and ensure that you clearly state your objectives and reasons to the executive in a professional way. There is no need to sugar coat your words.

Make use of decisive tones and expressions:

  • Don’t leave any chance of ambiguity in your discussions. Use decisive words like “I have decided” instead of saying “I think” or “I feel”.

Get the severance package ready and approved by the board beforehand:

  • Once the executive knows that she is going to be fired, she won’t pay any attention to the company and its problems, the only things she’d be bothered about is herself, her career and her family. So, ensure that your exit conditions and severance package is ready to be told in the meeting.

Lastly, the executive will be keen to know how you are going to communicate this news to the company and other stake holders. It is always advisable to let her take this decision.

Step 4: Getting prepared for the company communication

Once you’ve let the executive know, you must promptly let the company know about the change. The right order for conveying this fact to the company is

1) The executive’s direct reports – since they’ll be impacted the most

2) Other team members – as they might need to answer the questions regarding it.

3) The remaining company.

It is important that all the communication as per above points take place on same day and if possible within a span of few hours. While letting the direct reports know about the firing of the executive, ensure that you’ve already planned who they’ll be reporting to till the next executive is recruited (for approvals, setting of goals, meetings etc). Usually, it is prudent for a CEO to take the executive’s role for the time being. If you plan to take the role, you must actually be in it while performing all the tasks of setting goals and objectives for team members, calling them for regular meetings, having one-to-one meeting etc. Doing this will facilitate the continuity of the team and also make them feel confident about their positions. Also, while being in the role, you’ll learn a great deal on what to expect from the person you’d plan to hire next for that role.

When you inform the company about the change, you might bother that employees might misinterpret the news and think that the company has some problems. Don’t attempt to orchestrate around such reactions. When you anticipate your employees to behave like adults, they really do most of the time. If you start treating them like children, then be ready to see your company turning into one bounty Barney’s episode!


Each CEO wants to say that she executes a wonderful company. It is however difficult to know how true the claims are, until the CEO or the company falls into the need of doing something really tough. Getting an executive fired is an effective test.


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