February 18, 2014 – Colleen Niese - Insights

When It's Time to Say Goodbye

simple pink slip

Throughout my career, I’ve been involved with a number of employee terminations for all sorts of reasons.  During these particular meetings, I’ve been the receiver of a wide range of reactions by the affected individual, from physical threats to thank you notes and everything in between.  It has yet to prove to be an easy process to facilitate, I’ve never slept well the night before and I’ve learned along the way to rely on the following key tactics when it’s time to say goodbye.

Act Fast 

If, after much performance coaching and related due diligence, you have reached the point that it’s time to separate the employee from the company, don’t defer the termination until “the time is right”.  I once worked with a manager who prescribed to this rationale…for seven years.  Besides breaking some sort of bizarre record, this leader lost the respect of so many of his other employees over those years for requiring them to work around this poor performer.  The longer the wait the harder it will be on all fronts, so don’t delay; put together the plan and execute.

Who’s on Your Team

When it’s time to plan the termination, make sure you include the right resources to help you with all the supporting details.  HR can help you with planning the actual meeting, employee communications and working with the affected individual throughout the remaining steps after the meeting.  Legal counsel will provide the appropriate separation documentation and guidance that’s legally compliant and sound.

You’re On

When it’s time to sit down and deliver the message, make sure you have a witness.  If HR isn’t available then ask one of your peers to sit in and just take notes to avoid a potential “he said/she said” situation afterward.  The affected employee should know within the first 90 seconds of the meeting that he is being asked to leave.  If the employee wants to change the subject by asking why, request another chance, etc., steer the conversation back on course by stating something simple, along the lines of “I hear you, but the intent of today’s meeting is to discuss your transition.”  After the employee hears that a couple of times, he’ll stay on point with you.

Don’t Forget About Those Left Behind

An often overlooked, but crucial piece to the termination planning is communicating the change to those affected, both internally and externally.  Nothing feeds a rumor mill faster than a termination that’s not acknowledged or explained in different ways to different people.  Avoid telling Sally the “real story” and Harry the company line.  Inevitably Sally will meet Harry and compare notes, looking a bit sideways at their manager due to the inconsistency.

Optics are everything when it comes to employee terminations; how you treat the employee until she is completely separated from the company and her colleagues after she’s left is duly noted by all and actually can play a material role in defining your leadership.  The best route to take is being transparent, honest and respectful toward all involved.

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