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Do Your Own Dirty Work

Business school doesn't teach you how to fire someone. In fact, no one does. There might be a book about it somewhere, but is that something you really want to pick up and read? I'm guessing, no. You might even be cringing as you attempt to read this blog post. The reality is: At some point in your career you will probably be subjected to the excruciating process that is firing. And you should have an idea how to execute this task correctly.

So how do you do it? One typically learns how to fire someone by watching others or listening to friends recant their horror stories, then you reflect on how you would want it done if you were in their shoes and you adjust your approach. Keep in mind, this doesn't mean that you are learning correctly. Why? Depending on the offense, firing someone shouldn't be an emotional reaction to a situation or a first response, I would argue it should (usually) be a last resort. We don't always see the work that goes into this process.

When it does come to that final step, I implore you to never hand off this job to someone else. Whether you are firing someone because of required layoffs, insufficient performance, or the person simply isn't the right one for the job, firing can arguably be described as one of the worst tasks you might ever have to do as a manager. But, as the manager, you should do your own dirty work. I'll use a personal example to tug at your heart strings:

The first time I had to fire someone it wasn't because they were lazy. In fact, it was completely the opposite. I'm pretty sure they worked harder than anyone in the office. This individual simply lacked the skillsets required to complete the job and, after months of coaching and trying to get this individual up to speed, we realized that we needed to cut ties. I was sick to my stomach. At the time, I was too young to have any real experience with firing. I did some research on how to best handle the discussion, and came out on the other end even more confused. I kept thinking that I needed to just rip off the Band-Aid and was somewhat calmed knowing that my boss would be there in the meeting with me. 

The closer the meeting grew, the worse I felt. I kept thinking to myself, "You're such an asshole. This employee works harder than anyone else. Why would you fire someone who has done nothing wrong? Why wouldn't you just keep them until you can find another place for them in the company." The truth is: It isn't about any of that. When an employee is creating more work for you, when their skillsets are clearly mismatched with the job functions, and when they are constantly struggling to complete tasks (all of which you have to look over and provide feedback), there comes a point where being in the company does more harm than good for the employee. This is where you, as a manager, need to acknowledge they would be better off in a position where they would thrive on a daily basis, where their skillsets are in line with their job requirements. It's then that you have to reach a tough decision: Do you fire them? Or are you able to work with them to find another position in the company?

If you run into the scenario where you have a lazy employee, someone who maybe has the skillsets but is trying to fly under the radar and do the absolute bare minimum to get by, you can refer back to my previous blog Let's Get You Back on Track in order to work together with them to put them on a path for success. Sometimes you will find that none of this works and that you do have to cut ties.... What do you do then?

1. Build your case

When I run into a situation where an employee is underperforming, I work to make sure that I have done whatever is in my power to help make them a more effective employee. One way is to develop a personal improvement plan (PIP). Simply stated, the goal of a PIP is to get an employee back on track.  The idea is to avoid termination by setting clear, attainable goals incl. deadlines for an employee to achieve.

In the event that the employee is unreactive to the discussion of improving work performance, you do need to make sure that you have properly documented your process, support and discussions along the way. This means, the following: 

- I work with HR to develop a PIP that is communicated to the employee and signed off on. I inform HR throughout the various steps what was improved upon and what not.

- I follow up every meeting with an email to the employee and, where required, CC HR: As agreed upon in our meeting on XX date, this is what was discussed, these are my expectations, this is the due date. If anything is unclear please respond by XX date. 

Any discussions with the employee are documented from my perspective on that date and PDF'd in a personnel folder for that employee.

This typically gets them firing on all cylinders and, if not, you work together with HR to define an exit plan.

2. Do your own dirty work

I actually allowed my boss to take over the first firing discussion because I physically couldn't get the words out of my mouth. When I left the meeting I kept thinking to myself, "this should have come from me, not from him". I worked with the employee, I managed them, I had all daily interactions with them, I had to make the ultimate decision to let them go. This means that I should have opened my mouth. The same goes for you. If you have to fire someone and you are the one that works directly with them on a daily basis then you should be the one to fire them. You know their personality, how they tick, the best way to approach them. Remember that you are a manager and these types of tasks fall under your job description.

3. Remember they are a human being

Say as little as possible, as much as necessary. You don't need to yell or humiliate them. Be specific. Be clear about what the meeting is about. For example, "Susie, we are here today to communicate to you that today will be your last day with XX company. We have been speaking for XX time period regarding XX topic and this past month's KPIs indicate that your team is still not hitting the mark. For this reason, we have decided to terminate our working relationship with you.". After you say these words, give it a few minutes to let everything sink in and allow them to respond. This should not turn into a discussion. Simply reiterate your points and move on to the next step.

4. Remember the details

It's always best to have another person in the room when you are firing someone. The ideal person is someone from HR. Before this discussion takes place, you will need to work with HR to prepare a document that communicates last day of employment, last paycheck, benefits, unused vacation time, etc. At this point of the discussion they can communicate the aforementioned points, ask them to hand over their badge, computer, and cellphone, then ask if they have any further questions. If not, then you can say, "If you have no further questions then we will walk you out." and, as you do so, wish him/her the best.

As emotional as this entire process can be, you always have to keep in mind that an ineffective, lazy or mismatched employee can and will impact the rest of your team. The frustrations that can arise from productive employees can significantly alter the team culture and make others resentful of the individual's behavior. This is why I encourage you to tackle these issues head on and not pray they go away or, even worse, hand them off to another manager. The best thing you can do for both you and your team is to confront the issue. And if you are struggling with the how?, reach out to your HR for support. Remember to treat them with the same decency and respect that you would expect in return... no matter how frustrated you are.


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