Firing a team member: when and how

By Noushin Ziafati | April 26, 2024 | Last updated on April 26, 2024
5 min read
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Some advisors may avoid firing a troublesome assistant or associate because the idea seems too uncomfortable.

In some cases, they may even take on the work of the employee instead of letting them go, said Alice Ambrosie, vice-president and head of practice management with CI Global Asset Management in Toronto.

“But unfortunately, that can and will cause the business to suffer, whether it’s not growing as much, whether it’s causing burnout, whether it’s causing a toxic environment — whatever it may be,” she said.

That’s why it’s best to be prepared if you have an employee who doesn’t seem to be working out.

Here are tips for advisors who are considering firing an assistant or associate.

Ask yourself key questions

If you’re thinking of letting someone go, the first thing you should do is ask yourself a series of questions, Ambrosie said. These questions may include:

  • Is the employee coachable? Have you held up your end of the bargain in coaching them and given them all the resources they need to succeed in their role?
  • Does their role need to be changed? Do they have strengths and weaknesses that are better aligned with a different role on the team?
  • Is the employee causing conflict and negatively impacting the team culture?
  • Are the employee’s actions negatively affecting the client experience?
  • Is their performance directly or indirectly restricting the team’s ability to grow?

If you feel as though there’s room for improvement in training or the team dynamic after answering these questions, then consider making adjustments “because often there are opportunities for change,” Ambrosie said.

For example, if someone in an administrative role is not performing well but still has valuable skills, moving them to a different position “will probably alleviate a lot of conflict on the team,” she explained.

However, if you feel as though you’ve done all you can to support the employee and they’re still underperforming, it may be time to let them go. If you have access to human resources (HR) staff through your dealer, you should consult them on next steps, said Tina Carthigaser, who has an HR background and is a partner and director of operations with Advice2Advisors.

Dan Collison, managing partner with Advice2Advisors, recommended walking through tasks with employees regularly to ensure they’re capable and knowledgeable. This can be done at regular one-on-one meetings, where advisors can discuss the responsibilities of each employee, the key performance indicators they should be meeting and any roadblocks they may be facing.

If they don’t have the capacity or capability to do the work, then termination may be necessary, Collison said.

Giving warnings

How much warning should an advisor give to an employee that their performance is not meeting expectations?

The answer depends on the person, Ambrosie said.

“An advisor with a successful performance management and/or management strategy is doing enough ongoing coaching that the underperformance will never be a surprise,” she said. “You really have to evaluate where they come from and whether that improvement is actually coachable. Our perspective is that you can coach activity; you cannot coach attitude.”

Carthigaser suggested using “progressive discipline,” which is an approach that addresses and aims to correct employee performance issues through a series of escalating steps. This could include written and verbal warnings.

“If progressive discipline fails and ultimately you need to terminate somebody, it’s been well documented and you’ve gone through the steps with that particular team member and they’re very much a part of the process,” she said.

Collison echoed those remarks.

An advisor should speak to the employee when they first see signs of problems, he suggested. Once the advisor has voiced their concerns, then they should ask the employee to describe to them how they think the problems can be rectified. 

“A discussion around the employee’s solutions can then take place, with the advisor agreeing or correcting what the employee will need to do to ensure the problem doesn’t continue.  Specific measures and timelines should be set up with a feedback methodology in place to ensure the problem has been rectified,” Collison said. 

“If after this discussion, the problem does persist, then a conversation needs to take place regarding an ultimate resolution to the problem, including very specific steps and very specific timelines to be adhered to.” 

Document everything

Documentation is crucial when you’re considering firing someone “because there’s always a chance for a lawsuit,” Ambrosie said. “The more that you have documented the performance, the better.”

Advisors should be “very thorough” in their documentation, including any evidence of the employee’s performance issues such as comments in performance reviews and written warnings, Carthigaser noted.

Your dealer’s HR resource also can help you understand employment laws and termination guidelines to ensure you’ve provided adequate notice or severance if it’s required.

Be firm and direct 

Similarly, your dealer’s HR resource can provide guidance on the actual act of terminating an employee, Ambrosie said. They will be able to coach advisors on the nuances of terminating with or without cause and will ensure that the advisor and the employee are protected.

And when it comes time to inform an employee they’re being terminated, it’s best to be firm and direct, Ambrosie suggested.

Prepare to explain why the employee is being terminated and provide documented examples in a concise manner, she added.

Sharing the news with your team

Collison suggested explaining why the employee was let go and the process in which they were, since other staff members may be wondering, “What if I’m next?”

“If you can show that you’ve done it actually humanely, even show [your team] the process, it’s going to make for a more comfortable discussion,” he said.

Advisors should also focus on the future rather than dwelling on the past when sharing this news with their team and clients, Ambrosie recommended.

She said advisors can say something along the lines of: “So and so is no longer with us. We have thanked them for their contributions. I recognize that being down a team member is not ideal. However, we have a plan in place to manage things for the short term while we hire someone.”

“And you keep it as that and then you work through a plan,” Ambrosie said. “Your team needs to know that you are a professional and that you have control over the situation.”

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Noushin Ziafati

Noushin has been the associate editor of since 2024. Previously, she worked at outlets including the CBC, Canadian Press, CTV News, Telegraph-Journal and Chronicle Herald. Reach her at