Donald Trump made famous the term “You’re Fired” on his show “The Apprentice.” As a business owner, you know that the decision to release someone is not as simple as those few words.
There are so many issues to consider when deciding to end someone’s employment with you:
- Have you done all you can to improve their performance in their current role?
- Is there another way they can contribute to the firm in a different role?
- Is your feeling driven by their actual job performance or are they just not a good cultural fit for the company? Maybe they just don’t “play well with others.”
- Have you communicated clearly your expectations and held them accountable for their expected contribution?
- Will they be surprised by your discussion regarding their performance?
These reflections do not take into account specific legal concerns (age discrimination, number of warnings, advance notice, etc.) that may come into play in your state. Make sure you work with your human resources professional to determine you have followed all appropriate procedures. In my case, we use an outside benefits and payroll company that provides this service.
I have been accused of being too slow to let someone go. I think I must have a loyalty “streak” that holds me back. However, by not /being too quick to pull the trigger, I have salvaged some key relationships over the years by working with the employee to improve their performance. It’s important to me to treat the employee as a valued person and address the performance and behavior separately.
On the other hand, when there’s a justifiable “cause” for letting someone go, quicker is better. I was consulting with a business where they discovered their sales people were running a “side” business and bidding the jobs to their same customers and prospects and diverting some of their revenue to themselves through this outside firm. I have seen this happen on more than one occasion and the owners have been so hurt and astonished, they did not take quick action. In one case, they tried approaching the offending parties to talk them out of it. In another, the owner felt that the key “rainmaker” was too valuable to the firm and didn’t want to let him go. Needless to say, neither of these scenarios turned out well.
An exercise that has served me well over the years is to approach the performance-challenged person with the following question:
“How do you see yourself contributing to the success of our firm over the next year? What specific things are you planning to do to achieve what you believe is success? “
Give them a week and plan a quiet place for your follow-up meeting.
Here is your challenge:
During that week, make your own list of items based on your perception that would constitute success. Just keep adding to the list until the morning of the meeting. That morning, prioritize your list. Have succinct bullets as to what each priority means to you.
After your employee has presented his/her list, ask “Is there anything else?” and “Can you explain what ____ (each key point) means to you?” Be able to feedback what you heard to the employee. Don’t interrupt with your comments about each point. Wait till they are completely finished and confirm that that is everything.
Now, pull out your list and compare it to the employee’s list. Point out any differences. Share and admit that there seem to be some gaps. Ask the employee what he thinks ought to be done to bring the priorities into alignment. Be sensitive. Allow them to accept the truth of what is expected and if they want to commit to your list.
This is not meant to be mean. It is a gentle reality check. For me, all who have gone through this exercise have thanked me, especially if they end up leaving to find another job that suits them better. Their list helps them find that unique opportunity that allows them to flourish.
Happy List Making,
Ron Schutz, author
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