Leadership Part IV: When and How to Separate

No one likes to do it, and yet you can’t avoid it. That could be said about many tasks in life, but firing an employee can be among the most difficult. First, most people don’t like giving bad news, and second, the reaction of the person being fired is always a mystery.

Nothing can change the unpleasantness of firing and employee, but there are some rules and steps that can make it easier for you and the person you are letting go. Let’s start with three basic rules that all bosses should know when it comes to firing:

  1. No surprises. As a good leader, you need to give your employees feedback consistently. It’s not enough to rely on annual reviews. If a people are not up to par, your job is to let them know, and more importantly, to provide the coaching, skills training or mentoring they need to improve.As soon as you become clear that there is a possibility of having to fire people, it’s important to give then a warning, or at least verbalize the gravity of the situation. This gives them an opportunity to improve, and it also lessens the blow when it comes time to separate.
  2. Keep good records. In this day and age of employee law suits, it’s important to document the progress (or lack of it) in this individual’s performance. Updates to HR on attempts to correct or improve the employees’ behaviors, and documentation on discussions you have had, is crucial for two reasons: 1) You can review this with employees to help then understand your decision, and 2) it may come in handy if there is any kind of HR or legal problems.
  3. Be sympathetic, but don’t waiver. Your job is to be kind and respect peoples’ dignity, even if you don’t like them. At the same time, showing that you feel bad or unsure about the decision may lead you down a path you do not need to traverse. Listen if employees need to vent, but don’t provide too much advice or engage in long, drawn-out conversations.

With these steps in mind, how do you actually have the conversation? Try these six steps:

Step 1: Ask the employee you are firing and any other relevant staff (HR representatives) to gather in your office or a private place.

Step 2: Explain briefly to the employee why he or she is being fired, and offer clear and specific reasons for this decision.

Step 3: Review the process through which you have tried to help the employee improve the behavior and briefly describe how these attempts failed.

Step 4: Give the employee any remaining funds due, or explain when and how they will be received. Also, discuss severance pay options if they are available.

Step 5: Offer the employee the opportunity to ask questions, or to talk about how she or he feels about the situation.

Step 6: Reiterate the decision, and offer options about when and how the employee wants to leave the office and gather personal belongings. At times, it may be more appropriate to decide this instead of asking, but when there is an option, offer it.

Firing may be one of the most difficult tasks of any leader or manager. At the same time, it’s necessary to let people go if they aren’t a fit – both for them and you. Ironically, firing people can sometimes boost morale within an organization, especially if the general sentiment about that person was negative. Remember that the bottom line of any leader is to build the best, most productive organization possible. As long as you do that with kindness and integrity, you will never fail.