One of the most difficult actions a business leader has to take is to terminate an employee. Over the years I have worked with hundreds of business owners, executives and managers who thought it was more pleasant to get root canal done on their teeth than to let people go. They felt this way even when there was no solid business reason to keep that person employed in their current position. Here is the good news – there is a professional, less painful way to conduct a termination.
Consider this recurring conversation I have with many of my clients: I get a long list of complaints about an employee; what the employee is unable to do, the problems that person has caused and all the efforts that have been made to turn the individual around. The client asks me what to do with this employee. Obviously, these clients know exactly what to do with someone like that only they just can’t bring themselves to actually do it. If you have done everything reasonably possible to turn an employee’s behavior around, with no positive results, I have one question, you’re keeping this person on your payroll because…?
Why do employers hold on to people longer than they know they should? There are a number of reasons:
1. Not wanting to be thought of as mean or cruel.
2. Afraid to confront negative reactions – anger, tears or any kind of difficult conflict.
3. Concern about how the person is going to provide for themselves and their family.
4. The person has been in the company so long he/she has become like a member of the family.
5. The cost of having to pay into the unemployment pool.
6. Don’t have a replacement to do the work – don’t want to invest the time it will take to train someone else.
7. Feel hostage to the employee because of what he/she knows about your business.
Review this list again and see if there is any legitimate business reason to hold on to a poor performer.
You and I are not heartless. Most of the time we are really nice. But logic and business necessity clearly dictates that when an employee is hurting the company, and numerous attempts have been made to improve their performance, and that person cannot or will not change – there is no other conclusion to be drawn, but to change that person.
Here are the steps to a professional, lower stress termination process:
1. Be convinced that you have tried everything reasonable and this is the right thing to do for your business. (Careful – listen to your head here, not your heart) – Contact me if you’d like a checklist to help make this decision with 100% confidence.
2. Plan the termination process, don’t do anything spontaneously or ad libbed.
3. Be convinced that you are not doing anyone a favor (including yourself) by keeping them employed in a job that is wrong for them.
4. Keep the process as humane as possible. Make sure you give the person an appropriate cushion for the transition, especially if this person has been with your company a long time. (I realize this is a decision based on financial conditions of the company, but a week’s severance for each year of service is not unusual for a loyal employee whose performance requirements have changed and who does not have the skill set necessary to do the new elements of the job.)
5. Offer whatever help is reasonable (references, contacts, outplacement) to help that person make a transition (remember, when they leave you want them thinking forward about their next job – not backward about you and your company.)
6. Be in control of your reactions at the termination meeting. The person being terminated may get emotional, but you shouldn’t. The last thing you want to do is respond with anger about whatever that person might say.
7. The termination meeting should be factual and as brief as possible. There should be no ambiguity that the person is being terminated. This is not a disciplinary or performance feedback discussion. You are there to talk about the separation from the company – nothing else.
8. Let the person vent, ask questions and regain composure (if necessary), but don’t argue, try to explain or get caught up in letting the person attempt to persuade you why he/she should not be terminated. Let them know the decision was well thought out and is firm.
9. Have a script prepared for the rest of your staff. Don’t leave them wondering if they are in jeopardy, too. Don’t make the person you are terminating a villain or bad person. Explain that this was a necessary business decision and how this person’s work will be handled in the immediate future and long term.
Termination is a difficult, but necessary part of a manager’s job. Recognize that abdicating responsibility in this area could do great harm to your company and all the other hard working contributing employees who work for you.
The process of terminating an employee is simple –we know it’s not easy.