3 Steps For Fair Firing
by Scott Danielson
In a recent interview with Harvard Business Review, Gilt Groupe CEO Kevin Ryan details his keys to developing a quality team: recruiting and managing talent. Ryan says that, although never fun, terminating people who haven’t panned out is crucial to creating a quality team. If left unchecked, underperforming employees will bring a company down, and it’s a manager’s job to make sure every individual pulls his or her weight.
Since firing leaves an empty position to fill, not to mention the pain of actually doing the deed, here’s a three-step process for letting someone go.
#1 Make It Clear That It’s Do or Die
Getting fired should never be a surprise. From an emotional standpoint, unpleasant surprises can lead to angry outbursts. On the practical side, they don’t allow the employee to prepare for what’s coming. To prevent a firing fiasco, let an employee know when he or she is under pressure with three quick steps.
First, detail your expectations as clearly as possible, i.e. sales targets, project results, etc. General statements such as, “You need to put in more effort,” lack direction and can easily be misinterpreted. Next, note the need for improvement and make him aware of the consequences if your expectations aren’t met. Finally, provide hope. Let her know you have faith in her abilities and that you expect her to rise to the challenge.
This step puts intense pressure on an employee and should not be undertaken lightly or used very often. So be sure it’s necessary before you begin.
#2 Get Assessments from Top to Bottom
Unless it’s a very small company, firing should never be in the hands of one person. It’s far too easy to lose good talent or hang onto bad talent because of personal preferences. Instead, develop consensus. Talk to as many people as possible about the employee’s contributions. You may discover untapped abilities or even less productivity than you imagined, but either way you will have more useful information.
This is also a great way to evaluate your managers’ eye for talent. If four of five managers disapprove of the employee while one sings his or her praises, you may need to have a conversation about the approving manager’s evaluation skills.
#3 Fire with Honesty and Humanity
Finally, the moment you’ve been dreading comes, the firing itself. Terminating an employee takes an emotional toll on both parties, so it’s particularly important that you take enough time to prepare. Think about what you’re going to say. Plan for how you will handle emotional outbursts. Take a few minutes before your scheduled meeting to breathe, reiterate your goals, and focus on your vocal tone.
During the meeting, understand that tap dancing around the issue at this time won’t help anyone. Remember, the individual has already been warned, so be direct and to the point. State the bad news, briefly reiterate your reasons, explain the exit process, and end with best wishes for success in the future. Don’t be swayed by tears or allow yourself to be diverted into an endless repeat of discussions you’ve had before. Stay focused on the final result, and end the meeting on your terms.
Throughout, hold onto your sense of humanity. Maintain eye contact, keep your body open, and speak in empathic tone of voice. By keeping your cool and remaining empathic, you can make a very difficult situation more compassionate.
Firing someone is generally not pleasant. However it’s a necessary evil for any business. By balancing logic and emotion you can make an unpleasant experience much easier for you and your soon-to-be ex-employee.
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