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Is There a Right Way to Fire Someone? Comments

I recently became COO at my firm, which is exciting. But my job now includes HR, and my boss wants to fire an underperforming employee who has small children. I’ve never worked in HR before, and I’m really uncomfortable with this. What is the “right” way to terminate someone? --J.M., Seattle, WA

Believe me, I know it’s hard to let an employee go, particularly if you allow your mind to spin off into thinking about their family and finances. But here’s the thing: When low performers slide, it only demotivates the rock stars. Remember: As the leader, it’s your responsibility to make decisions that are best for the group as a whole. (After all, they have families and finances, too.)

If you want to get uber-tactical, my favorite process for correcting employee behavior is called "Three Strikes." In other words, if your coaching conversations aren't working, the first step is to call the employee into your office for a review of their written job description. Go through each responsibility clearly and directly and ask if anything about those expectations is unclear. Next, go over where they are falling short and--this is important--give specific examples:

"Remember when you missed the deadline on the tax return? Here's what happened as a result of that....."

Also important: This is not the time for debate. The employee will most likely come up with justifications for their behavior -- "but Mary didn't get me the info I needed…" -- so be prepared to gently but firmly reiterate your expectations. For example: "I understand and I sympathize with you, but it's still your job to make sure these returns are delivered on time. Moving forward, if you know Mary is running late, let’s address it at the time and not when we're bumping up against important client filings. My door is open…”

Go to page 2 for specific suggestions.

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