You may be in the position of advising an employee that they are just not up to the job and that you need to terminate their employment with your company. If you have not found yourself in this position yet, don't hold your breath. You many need to terminate an employee some time in the future.
Your position becomes even more difficult if the employee is a friend or family member. As you can appreciate, in this situation there is a long emotional history between the two of you. A termination strikes to the core of a person's sense of self-worth, and so discussions need to be handled tactfully and professionally. Here are some tips and hints for making your job easier and for easing the burden on the hapless employee.
Under no circumstances should you terminate the employee "out of the blue", with no warning. The only exception is in circumstances where the employee has engaged in serious misconduct, such as stealing from your company or assaulting another employee. The termination discussion should be the culmination of a process of alerting the employee of their behavior or performance shortcomings and setting intermediate goals. It is only when these goals are not achieved or where progress is minimal that you should move to the termination phase of the discussion.
Hold the discussions in private, preferably in a neutral area and well out of earshot of others. Making the discussion public is most likely to raise an aggressive or defensive reaction in the employee; or at least more so than what it would have been otherwise.
Let the person know in advance the time and purpose of the discussion. Giving them this information up front satisfies the requirements of procedural fairness and gives the employee the opportunity to prepare.
If the termination meeting is to proceed relatively smoothly, there are actions you need to have taken well before the meeting starts. The steps I have listed below are just such actions, starting from when you first noticed the sub-par performance or behavior.
Set objectively verifiable behavior or performance goals. Where your goals mention attributes or competencies, such as "act as a team player" or "demonstrate customer focus", spell out exactly what those terms mean. And then back up your progress reports with actual, recorded observations.
During the discussion, do not "blame" the person by referring to an aberrant personality or bad motives. Keep the discussion focused on observable behaviors. For example, do not say, "You do your best to sabotage each team meeting". Instead, say, "I noticed that you interrupted the person speaking at least ten times during the course of the meeting."
After giving your feedback, listen carefully for the person's feelings. Acknowledge and respect how they feel about the feedback that you have just given. Ignoring or minimizing their feelings will make it less likely that they will acknowledge your point of view.
Let the employee know your company's escalation process. The process should start with informal feedback, progressing to formal warnings and finalizing in eventual termination. If your company does not have an escalation process, get one. Having and adhering to such a process keeps the termination steps "transparent" and is integral to procedural fairness.
By adhering to the above tips, you may just avoid having to terminate a below-par employee and may end up with an exceptional performer. If you do need to terminate the employee at the end of the process, you will at least have helped the person move on and you will feel better about yourself.
Leslie Allan is Managing Director of Business Performance Pty Ltd; a management consulting firm specializing in people and process capability. He has been assisting organizations for over 20 years, contributing in various roles as project manager, consultant and trainer for organizations large and small. Mr. Allan is a prolific writer on business issues, with many journal and web articles to his credit. He is also the author of five books on employee capability, training and change management. Mr. Allan currently serves as Divisional Council Member for the Australian Institute of Training and Development and is a member of the Australian Institute of Management, the Graduate Management Association of Australia and the American Society for Quality. Leslie may be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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