“Firing is not something you do to someone: firing is something you do for someone.” – Larry Winget
Firing an employee can be as difficult for the manager or business owner as it is for the employee. There is a right way and a wrong way to do it. Usually, by the time you have decided to fire an employee, there is more than likely enough probable cause to do so.
The first thing you should do is develop a written or verbal record of where you stand with them. Are they constantly coming in late? Having signed documentation will help you to let them know this is not acceptable and, at the same time, protect yourself from potential problems down the road. (If they’ve heard nothing but glowing praise from you over the last 6 months, they will feel indignant about being let go.)
I’m a firm believer in giving an employee every benefit of the doubt. When you have an employee that’s in the wrong, give them a chance to correct it. Thirty to 60 days is usually enough time to evaluate whether or not the problem is fixed.
Basically, employees will fall into four categories that measure their attitude and their ability.
- Will do, can do (Plenty of desire and aptitude)
Since the aforementioned is the perfect employee, the employee you are considering firing has one of three problems:
- Will do, can’t do (Plenty of desire, not enough aptitude)
- Won’t do, can do (No desire, plenty of aptitude)
- Won’t do, can’t do (No desire, no aptitude)
If the employee on the chopping block is a salesperson not meeting a quota, applying pressure can have more of a negative effect. Still, it is necessary to give them clearly stated goals: “I know you are working very hard. You’re selling six cars a month, and we need you to sell a minimum of 15. If you can’t do that, I think you’re not going to be happy, and I’m not going to be happy. So, I’m telling you this so you are clear what the expectations are. You are the lowest performing salesman each month, and that puts you at risk of losing your job if that doesn’t change.”
Sure, the salesperson wants to sell more cars, but doesn’t have the ability (will do, can’t do). Because they have the drive but not the skills, they are not a good fit for this particular job.
Conversely, an employee who is habitually late for no apparent reason falls under the ‘won’t do, can do’ category and should be given the shortest leash.
When it comes down to it, here is some practical advice to keep in mind when firing becomes necessary:
Have Clearly Stated Policies in Writing
This happens way before you decide to fire someone. If they are an at will employee, they should have signed documentation for that when they were hired. If there are no tolerance policies, have them read and sign a form that they understand violating them will result in termination at the same time. If it’s a salesperson, be clear and offer in writing what quotas they will be expected to meet to keep their employment and have evaluations so they know where they stand, particularly if they are under-performing in regard to your expectations.
Do the Prep Work Ahead of Time
If the employee has to sign something, have it ready. If they have vacation pay coming, cut a check and hand it to them. Have a plan of when and how they can get their things. Don’t keep them waiting to talk to HR outside your office after you let them go.
Assuming you’ve decided it must be done, let the employee go early in the work week. Fridays, contrary to popular opinion, are not the best day to let an employee go. Instead of focusing on their anger and resentment all weekend, they are more likely to focus on getting to work finding a new job.
Have a Witness with You
This prevents the employee claiming later on that you said things that you didn’t. Down the road, having a witness may avoid “he said, she said” by adding another account of what happened.
Less is more
Keep it simple and to the point. “I’m sorry Joe, we’re letting you go.” This is not the time to hash over the details as to why. You should already have sufficient documentation of that and, by this point, the employee should be well aware their job is on the line.
Some employees will want to argue. If so, let them speak their peace and listen. You don’t need to try to justify the reasons why you are firing them. In fact, the less you say at the firing to defend your position, the better.
Goodbye and Good Luck
Feeling bad is normal; few people like to fire people. It’s often as hard for you as it is for the person you’re letting go. Accept that you will be upset, and allow yourself some time afterwards to calm down.