Human Resources professional Bob McKenzie thinks the likelihood of a discrimination suit being filed, in the case of an involuntary termination, is 95 percent. With a professional estimate that high, it is imperative that terminations be conducted carefully.
You do not need to go into a termination meeting with all kinds of fear and trepidation. You should go into it, however, with a plan that is well prepared and thought out. Joel Peterson, an adjunct professor at the Stanford University School of Business, provided a series of detailed points to follow and some to avoid when preparing for the termination of an employee.
-Do not wait until some major termination event takes place. Many managers wait for a particularly bad event in order to affirm the termination decision. “Avoid this trap”, Peterson says. “Building a top team requires constantly reassessing the organization and its members— to identify who can grow into a larger roll and whose skill development isn’t up to par.” He goes on to say “Document the smaller, quieter moments of underperformance and establish a trend line. Try coaching, training, and other methods to fix the problem.” But do not hang back ‘looking for trouble’ in the form of a major event prompting a termination.
-Do not show favoritism in your termination practices. Hiring a friend or a relative (nepotism) can come back to bite you if you are not careful. Be consistent and fair in your hiring and firing practices. “Good leaders separate the personal from the professional. They clearly and frequently communicate to any friends and family members on their teams that they cannot provide protection should those people underperform.”
-Give ample warning of what is taking place. When nothing but positive feedback is provided during reviews and then someone is terminated, the results are usually not good. The person being terminated was blindsided and usually a law suit can result. Peterson says “Everyone— from the C-suite to the lower ranks— deserves frequent feedback. This is especially true if people are falling short of their goals. If someone is surprised at being fired, it’s a sign that you’ve failed ……. in your evaluation and review processes.” Keep the communication lines, even though they might be negative, documenting those discussions. Consider implementing a performance improvement plan (PIP) as part of the process.
-Plan for the meeting. Rehearse, prepare, and repeat. Peterson says “I engage in a series of self-talk exercises designed to reinforce the necessity of the action and put myself in the right mindset.”
-Do it yourself. The termination meeting needs to be conducted by the superior of the person being terminated. Not by an outside contractor and not by someone from the Human Resources (HR) department. “Not doing your own firing is a failure to ‘clean up after yourself.’ Eventually the whole organization will pick up on your inability to face tough issues.” Peterson laments.
-Be direct, clear, and timely with your communication. Do not drag out the purpose of the meeting. Peterson suggests getting to the point of the meeting within thirty seconds after sitting down. Do not drag out the message. Peterson suggests saying “We’ve decided to make a change/terminate your position/replace you.”
-Do not over communicate. State why they are being terminated “whether it’s due to performance issues, needed cutbacks, or the elimination of roles or functions.” Remember, if the employee is aware of past discussions, this step should not come as a complete surprise. Peterson says “If the person insists on defending himself, avoid the temptation to engage.”
-Strive for empathy and compassion. Do not be a jerk, try and be humane in your conversation and attitude. Think of what it must be like if you were to receive a notice of termination.
-Do not transfer the blame to someone else. Peterson says blaming someone else is “a cop-out. Most firing decisions are made with at least some collaboration; at the CEO level it’s always a collective decision by the board. But even in those cases, the one communicating the decision should feel and express personal responsibility for it— and not pass the buck.”
-Be munificent. In other words, when it come to the severance package, be as generous as possible. Remember, Peterson says “You are buying peace (because someone who accepts a severance package waives the right to litigate)….” He goes on to say a reasonable severance package should have financial severance, outplacement assistance, vacation pay, other earned benefits, health insurance continuance options, internal/external communications plans and the signing of a legal release.
While a termination meeting is never something to look forward to, it is a necessary part of leadership in most, if not all, companies. If you want to continue to see your company grow, it is important that you treat the process with dignity and respect.