How are your firing skills?

Unfortunately a great many managers, supervisors, and business owners have had to do just that in the past year.  It’s something that defines you as a boss, and a responsibility that separates you from your team.  These days, it’s an exercise that’s so fraught with difficulty, and dangerous repercussions, that often only in-house or outsourced HR departments are allowed to do it.  But what if you don’t have access to that?  In “Up In The Air”, George Clooney plays a guy, whose job is to fire staff (or make them redundant) on behalf of employers who daren’t do it themselves.  I’ll bet his fees are pretty steep too.

The first time I ever had to fire someone, was my office cleaner, named Rena. Rena the cleaner (yes, I know) had been doing a poor job, and leaving early to go to another client.  I wrote a note to myself on a Post-It; “Sack Rena, pay her wages, get keys”. My intention was to get in early to speak with her.  Unfortunately, by the time I arrived, Rena had gone, so had her wages envelope, replaced by her keys, and the Post-It was on the wall.  Lesson No.1 in doing it the wrong way.

Setting aside those instances when you have to sack someone for gross misconduct, and cases of redundancy, let’s look at a common situation.

Joe Bloggs, a recruiter, has been working for you for 18 months.  He was never great, but he is now missing targets consistently, and is affecting morale amongst your team.  He has become a liability, and your efforts to help his productivity have failed.  He knows that he is for the chop, as you have gone through the gamut of verbal and written warnings.  If he had enough initiative, he would have already have been looking for another job, and perhaps broached the subject of his resignation himself.  However, if he had that kind of initiative, he probably wouldn’t be so far behind target.

So he knows it’s coming, and so do you.  It’s hanging over you both like a black cloud, and it’s your responsibility to make this happen.  So when do you do it?  Monday morning, Friday afternoon?  Will you ask him to work a notice period, or would you prefer him to leave straightaway?  On balance, I prefer to have the termination meeting on a Friday afternoon.  Where possible, have another manager with you, and (in accordance with your grievance procedures) give them the option of having a colleague present too.  Get straight to the point.  Do not beat around the bush.  Inform Joe directly that will not be employing him anymore, and what payments he will be receiving in notice pay, outstanding commissions, expenses etc.  Be absolutely clear that this is not a negotiation.  Most importantly, do not get personal.  Don’t cast up anything that is not germane to his dismissal, and never say how hard it is for you to sack him.  That’s irrelevant, as you’re not the one being fired.  Thank him for his work, and close the meeting quickly.  All further communication should be by letter.  As leaving your office and clearing his desk may be awkward and embarrassing in front of colleagues, I prefer to offer the choice to leave for a coffee nearby, and return after the work day to collect their belongings.

This is only one out of many scenarios, which can occur when letting staff go.  I would always advise doing your homework, to ensure that you follow correct and legal procedures.  This will benefit not only you and your company, but also this individual concerned.

So come clean, do you have any firing nightmares?