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.