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It’s Okay to Let an Employee Go

By Kathy Olevsky


In every small business, lessons come to us when we least expect them. I have been one of the many schools who have carried a burden for too long. As a matter of fact, I have a list of situations that I prolonged.


For example, I have had employees who were not the best, but they were what I had at hand and I was afraid to be without them. I also have had family working for me. And because they were family, I hung onto them when I should have let them go, to save my business. I have had students who were toxic to the atmosphere in the dojo, too.


If you haven’t heard it before, let me say it now: Let them go and you will grow. If they have said they are going to leave, then they most likely will do that in the near future. Kudos to you for trying to save them. But there is so much energy spent on trying to save one employee who is unhappy. Or, for that matter, one student who complains about something different every day.


If you have an unhappy or unproductive employee, then use a proper method and bring it to their attention. After you have helped them understand what is needed to perform their job properly, let him/her know they are at risk of losing their job.


It’s important to make that statement and believe it. If you don’t intend to let them go, then it serves no purpose to tell them they are at risk. As soon as you see questionable performance, that is time to look for their replacement. A smart business owner is constantly developing bench strength and anticipating change.


Similarly, if you have a student, or a parent, who is constantly questioning your authority and ability to teach them, it may be time to consider sacrificing the income they generate. In our case, we have only had to make that decision a few times in our 40 years in business.


One circumstance, I remember, was a black belt-ranked teen who then decided she was more important than anyone else in class. We may have failed in teaching her how to be a partner, rather than an opponent.


In reality, we think she was treated as a favorite by a few instructors. As she got older, there were also others who got the same level of attention, or even more. Whether it was jealousy, or failings in our teaching, we did accept that we had created a monster.


So, we attempted to encourage humility and partnership, but those steps didn’t work. After about a year too long — and several students who quit due to her attitude — we had to ask her to leave.


How did we do that? After many conversations with her and a parent, I told her that I thought she had outgrown our program and that she might find a better fit somewhere else. Of course, that meeting was tense.


We included her mother and there was a lot of feedback. I accepted the feedback because I knew it was the expedient way to help her out the door. This, I must say, was one of the hardest things we ever did! On the other hand, the benefits of asking her to leave were apparent immediately. Our school atmosphere improved dramatically and so did our referral rate.


The hardest step in helping a bad instructor or troublesome student to leave your school, is just coming to the conclusion that you’re going to have to be the boss and take care of it. Once you decide, you can then develop a plan to do it with as little drama as possible.


We have found the best route for us is to accept blame. After all, in this day of online reputation management, it has never been more important to let them save face as you help them leave.


Kathy Olevsky can be reached for questions or comments at [email protected].


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