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Fire Your Employee Without Surprise

A management task we hate doing but we must do it sometimes.

Image by Michael Jasmund on Unsplash

There are a lot of reasons why to be a manager. You help employees foster their careers. You advise them, mentor them, and build good relationships.

On the flip side, there are a lot of reasons why not to be a manager. You need to push the team’s performance or to hold a finger over finance results. I had a lot of naïve ideas about the management work till I had to fire my first colleague.

As a manager, I expect smooth cooperation. If there are problems, there are always solutions. Unfortunately, I had to discover that this is not true. Some colleagues don’t fulfill the standards set for the work.

Some don’t have an excellent work attitude and some, unfortunately, become redundant sometimes. I have had all these cases, and believe me that any conversation of this type is difficult.

Here is my learning about firing someone because of their performance.

1. Collect evidence

It is enormously important to understand the performance of your team and the atmosphere. Work closely with your team members.

Hold one-to-one meetings, collect feedback, and deal with work escalations. Regularly and openly speak about their work, skills, and attitude.

At some point, you see patterns and identify colleagues who are sticking out of the average. Interesting! You start to wonder.

I had a colleague who came to our team after the successful hiring interview. She had an undeniable talent for data analysis. Yet, during her probation period, she was quite reluctant, and not driven to learn.

Moreover, she and her buddy developed a rocky relationship. So, after collecting bits and pieces, I understood, she might not have been a good fit for the job.

However, I suspected that she needed to be accustomed to the new work environment. I let her pass the probation period and assigned her a new buddy. The outcome was again not positive.

She did listen to the recommendations, but she took no action. The job simply did not interest her. After five months I reached the conclusion to set our ways apart.

On the day of the meeting, I asked my manager to attend the meeting too. The conversation was short. I told her she did not perform to our standards. I gave her examples of project delays, mistakes in data, and some other feedback.

Consequently, we wanted to cease her contract. She honestly admitted that the job did not suit her. She was sad but reasonable to agree that it would be for the best. I thanked her for her job and efforts and suggested I could write a letter of reference. So, our meeting ended up on a good note.

2. Avoid surprises

Performance does not ‘just happen. It is a deliberate act of working. It is influenced by skills, motivation, experience, work environment, etc.

However, always count on a simple fact — people are overconfident about their skills. They think they do ‘just fine. Therefore, they tend not to listen to feedback or warning in some cases. Inevitably, an exit meeting might catch them unprepared.

Here is one example. The company hired a new colleague. His performance was a bit of a rollercoaster — sometimes he did well, some other times he did not. However, he felt he was doing a great job.

He was confident, and he knew how to speak his way out of problems.

In general, though, it took more effort to develop his skills than in other cases. So, the manager and the trainers were unsure if he should have passed the probation period or not.

Unfortunately, the evaluation process took too long, and the result came on the very last day of his probation period. What a tricky situation! The meeting itself did not go well. The employee was surprised. He did not understand why no one told him. He blamed others for the lack of support. Eventually, he left in anger.

If you are unsure about your employee’s situation, you must be open and transparent with him. It is fair to say that his performance is being evaluated and the result will be shared with him at some point.

This can possibly even give him time to start looking for a new job. If he does not listen to you or does not take it seriously.

Give it to him in writing. You must have all these steps documented anyway, so print it and hand it over in private. That way you prevent also some legal issues which could arise.

3. Stick to your decision

There is always a reason and a long process behind firing someone. You evaluate performance and support him in his career journey.

Yet you must accept the simple fact that not everyone fits the job. If you are prone to stress, you might not do well in a fast-paced environment. If you don’t speak proper English, you might not be able to work with international clients and similar.

As a manager, you are involved in both — the work-life, and to some extent also in the private life of your employees. There is a fine line that can make you feel very uncomfortable. On top of it, it can make you fail during the firing meeting. I am guilty here myself.

The saddest firing meeting ever was with a colleague who had an amiable personality. She was humble and kind and went through a lot in her life. She was trying to set a new life, to find a perspective job with good career potential.

So, she could take care of her family. She was trying to be successful. However, for the type of job she was hired for, she did not have a talent, nor built the skills over time.

Sadly, she became an underperformer. I was anxious before the meeting. A big mistake I made was that I did not ask for the support of my manager to attend the firing meeting with me.

The meeting did not go well. She was deeply hurt and desperate. I promised to give her recommendations and support for finding a new job.

Yet, she kept on urging me to reconsider the decision and give her another chance. She dragged me even deeper into her family situation, and that made me feel even more miserable.

Consequently, I agreed. I said I would explore the options. Regardless of the fact, there were not any. The upcoming days were just pure torture for her and for me. Eventually, we had another meeting, and we concluded that her contact would end. This time she accepted. A sad relief for my poor management skills.

I learned a lot from this experience. Firing someone is a difficult situation for all parties involved. You must be prepared for escalated atmosphere, for accusations, tears, and promises.

By no means you do step aside. Stick to simple statements, evidence, and conclusions. It is only respectful towards the person and yourself.

Final thought

You need to be sure that firing is the best solution for the team as well as for the person.

So, evidence, feedback, and documentation are key. You must ensure that your employee got the support he needed and that he had an environment to perform well. If that fails, the ways depart.

It is crucial to be decisive, and be aware of the time (e.g. end of the probation period, end of the contract, etc.).

Also, discuss the situation with your manager or HR department as you should never hold a firing meeting alone. The meeting itself should be to the point, evidence-driven, and supportive. Emotionally prepare for the two scenarios:

  1. It goes well — a meeting ends on a good note.

  2. It goes badly — a meeting gets escalated.

Don’t forget you are also the face of the company. Therefore, you should be fully transparent and finish the meeting by thanking the person for cooperation and work.

He might not appreciate it on the spot, but later it might make a difference in how the person would see the company.

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