“Saying what needs to be said at the right time, to the right person, in the right manner is managerial courage.”
—Michael M. Lombardo and Robert W. Eichinger (1996), “FYI For Your Improvement: A Guide for Developing and Coaching”
Terminating an employee can be one of the most nerve-wracking and difficult things a business owner has to face in her/her career. When a team member is underperforming, the effects can ripple through the entire organization, whether it be: co-workers becoming upset with the increased work load, the employee feeling angry and/or frustrated they are not delivering and letting the team down, or the supervisor purposefully avoiding confrontation prolonging the issue.
This month we explore the process of letting go an underperforming team member professionally; assuming you have no other option and all other strategies such as regularly scheduled reviews, establishing a performance development plan, specific coaching on trouble areas, etc. have been exhausted. Here are some guidelines and suggestions for the conversation and follow up:
- Deliver the news in person and face to face. Avoid terminating someone via phone, email or text. Best Practice: meet in a neutral place like a conference room (not your private office), and bring a witness (e.g., another partner, staff manager, or senior employee) if possible so a second party can validate what was said in the termination meeting in case there's ever a problem in the future.
- Considering creating a script for yourself on what you plan to say. This helps to ensure you deliver the correct message, and steer clear of any legal hurdles. Best Practice: Rehearse your script with your partners, business coach, consultant, etc.
- Be clear at the start of the meeting that they are being terminated. You might want to have some examples of their underperformance ready, but if you have done what you are supposed to do as a supervisor along the way, this should be the conclusion of a lengthy series of meetings about performance issues and the employee should not be surprised. Try to keep the language as positive or neutral as possible. It can be tempting for supervisors to blow up and go negative with an employee in this situation, especially if they have been bottling up their anger and frustration in the time leading up to termination. Best Practice: Check with your specific state, compliance and/or HR dept, but something to the effect of, "Thanks for meeting with me. I think you know what we are here to discuss, but if not, as we have alluded to over the last few months, you have not been able to meet the goals we have set for you here at our company in the plan we both created for you when you started here. Due to this, we are terminating your employment as we specified we would do in the last meeting 3 months ago. We appreciate your contributions to our firm and will pay you for one additional month, as part of our severance package, while you look for a new position."
You might also want to watch this video before the big day, just to lighten the mood a bit... as only Cosmo Kramer can do. http://bit.ly/1AMnQ0O
After it is all said and done, spend some time in self reflection and ask yourself what you could have done better and/or differently. A very well known and successful firm owner in South Carolina once told an audience that, "if it does not work out with an employee, it is mostly my fault." Even though this was not popular with some of her peers, it is quite revealing to her management style and firm culture. Realistically, though, this is a foreign concept to supervisors who prefer not to self reflect and take ownership of the fact that if they have experienced turnover, especially frequent turnover, they are the constant in the situation and it may have less to do with the employee and more how the owner is managing (or not managing) staff in the first place.
Letting someone go due to performance is usually not at the top of a firm owner's wish list, and it can be avoided in many cases if a firm employs a thorough screening process for all of their new hires as well as communicates the expectations and timeframes from day one. Nonetheless, sometimes it is necessary, and hopefully these best practices will help.
Here are some links for further information:
- It is always a best practice to check with your state agency to ensure your terminating process complies with your state regulations - http://1.usa.gov/1G3kPhb
- An additional checklist resource from the Small Business Administration - http://1.usa.gov/1ErewFF
- The Society of Human Resource Management has a lot of good content for managers plus the option to seek out an HR consultant if needed - http://bit.ly/18V9s0L