The decision had been made; Devon was going to be told he didn’t have a job. It made sense because he wasn’t suited for his job and not a strong leader. I asked the COO, Laura, two questions. 1) Does he know he hasn’t been doing well and there was a chance he could lose his job? 2) Can he be allowed to finish the week and leave on his own terms? The answers immediately came back “yes” and “no” respectively. I wondered about both of those answers but didn’t push back when I should have. A mistake on my part I’ve regretted because her answers should have been “no” and “yes.” Laura didn’t like conflict and she avoided providing direct feedback. Devon was blindsided. Laura hinted at issues but was never direct. She didn’t want him around because she feared he would talk about her as a leader. A bad performer and weak supervisor is a bad combination.

When starting my career in human resources, I never imagined I would play a major role in how my organization said goodbye to people. I accepted there were times when it’s necessary because someone wasn’t performing well enough, a good match for their job, or a poor leader. What really disappointed me was learning not everyone in my organization wanted to do the right thing or cared about the person when it came time to say farewell. And it wasn’t just where I worked either as countless times I’ve shaken my head when hearing someone’s story about their job loss and how it was handled.

If you are a leader, you will need to terminate the employment of someone on your team. If you never do, it means you make great hiring decisions every time or have accepted less than someone’s best because you avoid conflict, or your organization has never had financial troubles. When you need to say good-bye, remember everyone is watching to see how you handle it, wondering what might happen to them. Here are some things to remember.

  1. No surprises on performance – If the job loss is performance based, they should know they are in trouble and therefore not be surprised when the time comes. Your conversations about performance should be fair, honest, direct and about the job being done, never about the person.
  2. Pay appropriate severance – You don’t “win” by getting the person to accept minimal severance, justifying your actions by saving the organization money. It’s never an equal negotiation because the employee is disadvantaged with very little leverage. Don’t take advantage, push your organization to do the best it can. Attorneys write severance agreements to “win” for the organization. Make sure it’s done fairly. If you want the employee not to disparage the organization, make it equal that anyone who knows about the agreement (yes you too) cannot disparage them either. If you expect them to cooperate if needed in the future, put a realistic time frame, not forever, and pay them for their time.
  3. Put the person first – Please don’t terminate at the end of the week, or the end of the year. It might give you a clean start to the next week or next year, but those are times when your former employee can do very little for themselves. The world won’t come to an end by waiting a little for the right time. Also, respect them by offering a choice of leaving immediately, or finishing out the week, providing they don’t disrupt the workplace. You’ll be surprised how many will choose to work the week, finishing what they are working on, saying goodbye, and walking out with some dignity. Reserve requiring them to leave that day only for the most volatile personalities.

Final thought, if it was you, how would you want it to be handled with you?

Do what is right and good in the Lord’s sight, so all will go well with you. Deuteronomy 6:18 (NLT)

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