Enterprise Software

Two proven approaches for firing someone

Sooner or later, all leaders usually have to deal with terminating someone. In this article, executive coach John McKee provides two approaches that have been very successful in this situation.

Over my career, I've overseen the hiring, promotions, firing and layoffs over about 3,000 people. From this firsthand experience I've seen how "business decisions" can affect a human being.  I've also learned a lot about how to handle each situation to minimize hurt, or on the other hand, optimize satisfaction in each situation.

One of the toughest things for many leaders is firing someone.  I have a lot of discussions with individuals who are feeling very bad because they have to let someone go and it's important not to minimize their concerns or feelings.  In my opinion, anyone without a lot of experience firing others who doesn't experience those very caring reactions is probably pathological.

That said, there are certain approaches that can help both you, as the person doing the firing, and the other person who is being let go, to get through the difficult situation. Here are two that I've seen have great results:

In both cases, ideally, you can have a representative from HR with you, or do it in the HR office.  If there is a pre-determined package, ideally it's available at the same time as your discussion.

1.  Don't just drop a bomb. Regardless of whether or not the employee sees it coming that they are about to get terminated; it really helps both of you if you spend a minute and go out of your way to give him or her a chance to understand what's about to happen.

Set an appointment to have a meeting with the individual - even if it's only a 1/2 hour ahead - it helps to set the table for a formal discussion.  When the person comes in, your first words are very important.  I recommend that you start with addressing them by name and saying, " ...I want you to understand that we are about to have a very difficult conversation.  Sit down and steel yourself."  Now take a deep breath and wait for at least 10 seconds so (s)he has a moment to process what you've said.  Almost immediately they will start to imagine the worst possible outcome.  Next, tell them that they are being let go and when that is effective.

Stop for a moment.  This will allow you to catch your breath and allow them to understand exactly what you've said.

Don't get into a lot of back and forth about the why's and wherefores at this point.  There's little benefit to that and it can lead you down a path of angry exchanges.

2. Ask them for some help with it. Many people are smart, experienced, and have ideas about the best way to let others go.  Often you can actually use their experience, or intellect, to have them help you fire them.  This is especially true if they've been around longer than you have.

Seem kind of counter intuitive?  I understand.  But what I've learned is that mentors, counselors and elders often stay in that mode even when it's no longer required of them.  They're often simply people who can't help themselves to help others in a tough situation -even if it's not to their benefit all the time.  And then there's the "know it all's" and the "salespeople" who are often kind of ingrained to tell first and listen later.

So, if you're dealing with one of these types; start the process by telling them that you need their help because you are going to have to let them go, but that you don't know exactly the best way to handle letting go someone with their experience (or expertise, or perspective, etc.). You might even say you're nervous having to do this.   You'll be surprised how this can work for each side.  The person being let go gets to tell you the best way to do it.  (S)he may add some things in for her or himself.  You get to use some good advice, learn a new management behavior in very tough firing.

This often helps reduce emotions, with both parties acting like adults, shaking hands and parting company.

And finally, in any termination discussion, don't allow your feelings to get in the way. If this has to be done, do it as matter-of-factly as possible.  If the other person wants to get into the whys and become defensive, don't go there.  Once it's been decided that someone has to leave, there's not a lot of benefit from discussing the past.  But it can cause a lot of high blood pressure during such a dialog.

About

John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of BusinessSuccessCoach.net, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion d...

28 comments
OldER Mycroft
OldER Mycroft

Actually, the call was initiated by ME! I'd already figured out that someone else had been hired for MY job, so I phoned up my Boss and asked about this odd hiring. Steam emanated no doubt from both ends of this radio-telephony and the upshot was a payment was agreed and I was instructed to leave the Company Car wherever I happened to be at an agreed time that day, then Courier the keys back to the Company. So, being that I was within driving distance of Ullapool (north west coast of Scotland), that's where I went. I didn't bother phoning from the car to let the Company know that I'd left the vehicle on the FERRY to Stornoway (Scottish Outer Hebrides)! I had my money before they had their car. ;)

PoppaTab
PoppaTab

I would never in a million years ask an employee to help me fire them. That is ludicrous. If only one person or a few; individual meetings not long after the day begins. You explain what is happening, what is expected of the person leaving, and wish them well. The same can be done before the lunch break to allow the person time to get things together. A long time employee will need some sensitivity and a bit of time. Simple communication works for all concerned. I've worked at a pharmaceutical manufacturer where security "had" to escort a person released if they were in an environment where damage could be done to the company. Usually security was notified beforehand and security had a station at every door anyway, so a simple search of articles removed was required. I've seen them go screaming and seen them go quietly. In the end it is a replaceable thing that is disappointing at the moment. For those who managed to get fired for behavior or bad practice; a frog march is always grand.

mikifinaz1
mikifinaz1

I am constantly amazed at peoples' reactions to being fired from a job. In the grand scheme of things it is a minor thing. I think it was an unexpected gift that I recieved when I lived in other cultures where people don't identify with a job, this allowed me to put "work" in a proper perspective. I also learned that like other unpleasant facts of life losing jobs is common and in this age actually advantageous; so I prepare accordingly. If you save about a years salary, keep your skills sharp, your resume current, constantly monitor the job market and keep in touch with career associates you will be poised to move on at the drop of a hat. I treat every job as a temporary task. I carry in a bag with all my effects and put it next to the door. I keep a count down calendar to remind me that this too shall pass, so when the time comes I can erase the calendar notation, pack my bag, and put on my hat and coat as I leave closing the door behind me. People who move in to their office and treat the staff as a family have a pathological attachment condition and are unstable to begin with. I try to find this out about people I hire and try not to hire this type of dependant personality. I like the way that Microsoft fires people. They call you in to a room with two people. The person firing you and the witness (to help deal with the unstable I suspect). They fire you quickly and efficiently. Then they escort you to your office, unplug your PC, watch you pack, take your security pass and walk you out. No crying towels, just thank you and we don't need your services anymore. Your last check will be sent in the mail.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

no delay. Make the decision, do it, deal with the fall out, anything else is self serving cowardice. And no I haven't and yes I would do it this way. We think you are crap. We can't afford you. We don't need you. Here's your money, thankyou and goodbye. I've been 'erm let go, or had to compete for my job again a few times, if there's one thing I can't stick aside from the git WITH the job of throwing me out, asking for some sympathy, it's trying to dodge that bit where they look me in the eye and just for f'ing once tell the truth.

OLD_ET_Man
OLD_ET_Man

I, too, have been on both ends of this spectrum and it's not easy. Every individual is unique, has different needs, and different motivation - or lack thereof in some cases. You have to stick to the task at hand, stay within the guidelines of the HR department, and use common sense dealing with the person involved. Firings are not exactly the same as a layoff - much more compassion is required in a lay-off situation.

eM DuBYaH
eM DuBYaH

certainly a more relaxed method to getting canned than what I used to see at IBM back in the 90's. on a monday, said employee shows up at work. walk to their cubicle to be escorted out by IBM security. talk about demeaning! not even given a chance to get their stuff. a team lead would go behind and put the personal belongings from the newly exiled employee in a box to be shipped out to the owner. i shudder at that procedure. driving in on a monday morning, fighting traffic, badge in only to be escorted out under guard no less. talk about heartless!

ryoung
ryoung

Being on the receiving end, may I suggest getting to it right away and not leave it for too far into the day. I spent an uncomfortable morning with my replacement before I found out that I was being replaced. The replacement knew and was very uncomfortable with the situation. I have also removed access to systems on the say so of HR where the person and their supervisor were not informed of the person's firing. It is best to keep the communication clear and timely.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

then this is the worst possible time to start. He'll recognize this behavior as unusual. If you bring the topic up at the start of the meal, he'll lose his appetite. If you wait until the end, he'll spend the whole meal worrying what the reason is for this odd occurrence and when you'll get to the point. Other employees will quickly pick up on your behavior as an indicator of future firings, and start finding excuses to avoid lunch with you regardless of your intentions.

CareerCoach
CareerCoach

Both sides can leave the talk with some dignity.

santeewelding
santeewelding

Ought to hold you in good stead. I find it does me.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"If you save about a years salary,..." Unfortunately, at least in the US, there are very few people who have even a couple of months salary stashed away. Obviously this isn't a good thing, but it's one reason why unexpected unemployment throws many into a tizzy. "...keep in touch with career associates ..." Then there are those of us who are just lousy at 'networking'. I'm not particularly good about personal relationships with people I see everyday. I have no idea how to maintain connections with someone I'm probably not going to see again. I also feel awkward contacting a former associate out of the blue asking assistance. This is a personal issue, and I know many people are able to use their social skills to their professional advantage. Being in IT, I fully expect that if the situation occurs, I'll be greeted at the computer room door (if not the front door), escorted to my desk, allowed to clean it out, and NOT allowed to touch any piece of computer equipment. I understand there's nothing personal about it. If I were on the firing end, I'd treat me the same way.

JamesRL
JamesRL

I've seen people laid off after 25 years. They had a career at one company. They had different jobs, developed new skills, changed and grew. Their jobs lasted longer than their marriages. Thats different than when I was young and went on a job hopping spree. I do think its a good idea to save up a nest egg, keep up your network and be prepared in case the worst happens. But understand some people do put more into it than just a job. James

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

You've been a member for five months, and this is what you've chosen as the first thing to post?

kenr
kenr

If you leave people some dignity, it always goes better. You should never "frog-march" (security escort etc) a person out the door except in cases of criminal or near-criminal activity. If they've been at a workplace for any length of time, they'll have relationships they'll want to say goodbye to, and if you don't let them, those relationships will all see you as the enemy. In this day and age "frog-marching" includes severing their network accounts while they're being told they're being "let go". In the "let go" meeting, keep your side short and to the point but allow time for the now ex-employee to process what you've said. They will be in shock, give them time. Know how much notice you're giving them, and all their accrued leave details. Also have the meeting before lunch, and leave them the opportunity (a booked out timeslot in the afternoon) to catch up with you again later (unless you are doing mass-firings, in which case you're probably an axe-man and don't need my opinion). If they are being let go for financial or other non-performance reasons, for goodness sakes tell them so! Even offer to be a referee in this case. If you've kept an eye on the job market being able to say "X is hiring in your field at the moment" will change the nature of the entire discussion. For termination due to non-performance, they should already be used to meeting with you about their performance, so it shouldn't come as a shock. For criminal activity, tough. My $0.02 worth.

lilcoll79
lilcoll79

Having been on both ends, I can say it's best to get it over quickly and not get into a conversation. I would rather be told up front then have to listen to the reasons and the back and forth and all of that. I can say the way my current company lets people go it aweful, they ask if you can stay a few minutes late on a Friday and let you go then. I think it's horriable, at least do it early in the day or earlier in the week so that the person doesn't have to go through the weekend and wait until Monday to start getting setteled into their new way of life. But that is what HR makes us do.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

git who's out of a job. Why would being laid off be an assuault on your dignity?. There are always other jobs, many far better, no big deal....

JamesRL
JamesRL

I've "rehearsed" it with HR before hand. It doesn't have to be long and drawn out, in fact shorter is better for everyone. HR should know what they will cover, the manager needs to know what they will say. I would caution against a cookie cutter approach, even for layoffs. You should take the individual into account, anticipate their reactions, know how you might respond. James

OldER Mycroft
OldER Mycroft

Take it back to the Company and make an impression of the Boss's face in the front grille of that Ford Escort [b]XR3i[i]+K&N[/b][/i], which was my FIRST thought. :^0

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

You mean you expect me to hang around on my time so you can give me the ax? That's about as chicken sh!t as doing it by e-mail or text. Do it on a Friday morning at the end of the pay period, and pay the poor schmuck for the whole day. Geez, canning someone on his time. What clueless pointy-haired idiot would be that stupid? Talk about the Peter Principle.

JamesRL
JamesRL

It is the rule here, because its in some coprorate HR manual, and is supposedly a best practise, but I don't get why Laying someone off on Friday is worse than Thursday, or Monday or...any other day (with the exception of Christmas eve). I've been on both sides of the fence. I know the shock of being laid off. Whether I wake up the next day and its Friday or Saturday, I'm still unemployed, and I will still be thinking about it. I wouldn't ask anybody to stay late though. I know they probably don't want the newly let go wandering the office in front of the still employed, but hey, it happens. I was laid off before lunch, so when I walked from my office with my box of stuff everyone was away. James

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

There may have been a 10% reduction across all departments, with 20% salary reductions for the rest, and there will still be those people who insist the boss was out to get them.

OldER Mycroft
OldER Mycroft

You perhaps didn't find the 'impression' remark [i]quite[/i] as funny as I did... ... it was a Printing Company! GEDDIT? :^0 ;) [i]Oh well, suit yourself.[/i] :)

OldER Mycroft
OldER Mycroft

Perhaps my firing was justified, of that I don't have any doubt (although perhaps an element of surprise). What annoyed me was that I had to ASK him if that was his intent! If I had been that inefficient/ineffective as an employee, how in hell was I smart enough to have sussed out my own sacking before I'd been officially told? THAT was what had me sitting plotting this silly man's demise. But I didn't have a Criminal Record then and I still don't now. Always best to only [u]think[/u] about the savage assault - THEN [u]actually[/u] hit 'em where it really hurts. He'd have had to explain how he'd fired me but the XR3i was sitting on a Caledonian Macbrayne Ullapool-Stornoway ferry - who'd have been Billing for passage/storage by the DAY!

santeewelding
santeewelding

When I had to fire, and I have had many experiences in doing so, I found it to be of my own failure. So far, my face is still my own. It is impressed on no grille.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

:D I never take this sort of thing as personal it's cold hard business bottom line. It's when the managr types give us the warm and fuzzy approach, I get irritated. I judge by deeds, we really like you Tony, you are great, but, goodbye... Didn't like me that much them did they?

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