While nobody wants to emulate Frank Cross, leaders are often unsure how to end the employment of a staff person who isn’t working out but hasn’t violated any laws or obviously failed. To be clear, you always want to seek legal assistance or advice on the proper procedure when you are thinking of firing someone. But whenever possible, strive to make this process less painful and more humane so as not to negatively affect the morale of the remaining staff.
What do you do about the staff person who just isn’t the right fit? Perhaps they don’t work as quickly as you would like them to or they keep making mistakes in the database. Maybe you would like to rework the position and would prefer to hire someone else to fill it. How can you fire this person and behave like a mensch (Yiddish: “a person of integrity and honor”) so that the employee isn’t humiliated and leaves your employ feeling good about you as a manager and your business as a fair employer and remaining staff don’t begin to panic about their job security?
Step One: Identify the issue – Joe keeps misspelling names in the database, Kate is regularly late in getting you the research you need or you really need a social media manager, not a marketing materials manager.
Step Two: Meet with the person to discuss the issues face to face. Always begin the conversation from a positive place and try to remain positive during the course of the conversation. For example, tell Joe, “I really appreciate your dedication to the organization. I’ve noticed you are having some problems setting up the contact information in the database. I’m wondering if work that requires this level of detail is a good fit for you.” Ideally Joe will acknowledge the difficulty he is having which allows you to move to Step Three A.
Step Three A: Joe agrees that database work isn’t right for him. Ask him what he would like to be doing and how you can help him. Maybe there is a job that he is better suited for – encourage him to apply for that position. If there aren’t any internal options then work with Joe to create an exit strategy from his current position. Give him a transitional timeline so that he will continue to work for a set period while you seek a replacement. Be clear that you are happy to provide a work reference with regard to his strengths as long as he continues to do his best work while he is still with you.
Step Three B: Joe is defensive and doesn’t know why it matters that he incorrectly enters information into the database since it eventually is found and fixed. Explain why that approach doesn’t work. You might say, “it is really important that the information in our database is clean. When we prepared last week’s mailing, at least ten percent (be specific and impersonal here) of the address labels had typos. This isn’t acceptable. If you enjoy database work then you need to focus on your attention to detail so you can bring up the quality of your work. Let’s create a performance improvement plan that focuses on your attention to detail and schedule a time to meet in two weeks to review your progress.” Tell Joe you want him to succeed (mention several of his positive attributes – and here you should personalize) but your first and foremost concern is that the quality of the database is paramount. Before he leaves your office, set up an appointment in two weeks when you can evaluate his progress. As soon as possible, send Joe a follow up email reiterating the points of your conversation and include the performance improvement plan. Ask him to respond with a confirmation that he understands what has been discussed.
Step Four: If you get to the point where you must fire Joe because there isn’t another appropriate job within your company, he hasn’t improved his skills, or you want to hire someone else in a new position and he hasn’t already found a position at another company and given notice, then establish an exit date. Make sure he can apply for unemployment insurance and has information about other resources he may need, such as COBRA. Work with Joe to craft an exit story so that he has an opportunity to say goodbye to co-workers, customers, etc., rather than just disappear into the night.
Not only will being a mensch send a positive message to Joe – it also sends a positive message to the staff you want to retain. It demonstrates you are a thoughtful manager who recognizes that it isn’t necessary to sacrifice your humanity in order to run a successful business.
By Andrea C. Sholler, Senior Consultant, Penn Creative Strategy