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A path for transition

Matt Pais

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Mitchell seeks outside guidance for a great employee in the wrong role.

IT'S NOT EXACTLY common for someone to thank you for firing them.

That’s what happened, though, when Dana Mitchell, CFP, CLU, let go of an administrative staff member she had a great relationship with but who was not detail-oriented enough for her role in following up on client questions.

The fired staff member wrote a letter to Mitchell thanking her for not keeping her in something she also felt wasn’t the right fit. “She thanked me for helping her to carefully talk through her career and think about what she truly wanted to do,” said Mitchell, a six-year MDRT member from Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

The reason for the smooth transition was that, rather than simply terminating the employee, Mitchell hired a consultant to aid the transition, an idea she learned from a fellow MDRT member at an Annual Meeting.

First, Mitchell reached out to her company’s employment lawyer to learn more about the process of terminating an employee, and to understand what a generous severance package would entail. The lawyer provided a list of consultants Mitchell could hire, so she called a few of the options and asked about their services, vetting them carefully before finally selecting one.

“The relationship with my staff member was important to me,” Mitchell said, “so if I was going to invest the money in a consultant, I wanted to make sure it was the right one.”

The chosen consultant was hired for an initial two-hour meeting about termination. She then spent five hours with the terminated employee to refine her resume and discuss possible opportunities for a recent graduate with a business degree.

“I think it can be really overwhelming to figure out where to go,” Mitchell said. “She had never had someone with experience tell her, ‘If you’re interested in this, this is where you start.’”

That helped provide a springboard from the problems at the office, where the employee, a small-town native and big-picture thinker, had struggled to adapt to commuting in a big city and the nuances of her role. With guidance from the consultant, she wound up not just leaving the city but leaving the financial services industry entirely, moving into a more transactional field.

Mitchell, whose practice has a team of eight (including an actuary and investment specialist on retainer) and specializes in full financial planning for business owners, learned several things from this experience:

Some skills can’t be taught. For a while, Mitchell thought her employee would grow into the role, and mistakes that were happening were just part of a learning curve. When two years of trying did not lead to growth, it became clear that the issue was the fit, not the time given to acclimate.

Better to move on than delay the inevitable. Without the consultant, Mitchell said, she would have probably kept her staff member on board, harming efficiency and morale as others had to check that person’s work. Only a client or colleague complaining or leaving would have prompted change, Mitchell said. With the consultant, it became clear there was a better solution. “You hire the best that you can, and if it doesn’t work out, instead of keeping someone because you have a good relationship, you can kindly move on. It’s good for the business, and it feels good for you.”

Individual problems may speak to bigger opportunities for change. This employee was the only staff member Mitchell has had to let go in 15 years of business. But this situation identified the ability to restructure her business (with the same consultant’s help) so that each aspect was serviced by a different person. So rather than pressuring one admin person to manage multiple components, now clients know who to talk to about insurance and who to talk to about investments. With multiple points of contact, Mitchell’s practice avoids any communication-based bottlenecks or any staff member tasked with working in an area in which they do not excel.

Firing someone doesn’t mean you’ve failed. “I looked at some of my clients who let people go all the time and thought it suggests something negative about their hiring practices,” Mitchell said. “But they’re just proactive about knowing not everyone is trainable, and there’s no way to truly know until you give them a try. Don’t show them the relationship is important by keeping them; show them by helping them move on.”

Contact: Dana Mitchell


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