The worst thing you have to do as a manager is fire someone.
To this day, I can’t sleep the night before doing it. I take it very seriously and so should you. Anyone who says they like it or don’t mind doing it is either lying or cruel. But sometimes, you have no choice. You’ve tried everything. You gave clear feedback. You offered to help. You did everything you could to make it work. Sometimes parting ways is the only solution left.
The moment you get fired is lonely and scary. This needs to be front and center in your mind when you deliver the news. You’re sending someone home to have to tell their spouse, their friends, their kids, that they were terminated. They have to figure out how to pick themselves back up and start again. They have to find a way to earn a living. The stakes couldn’t be higher.
Here are a few points to take with you the next time you have to let someone go:
1. First and foremost, be clear
The tendency is to let your own nervousness and emotions get in the way. You ramble. You try to sugar coat it. You try to spin it as a positive. Don’t do this. The most important thing when terminating someone’s employment is to be crystal clear. You can be sympathetic, but first you need to be clear. When I’m letting someone go I get right to it. I say something like “Bob, I’m really sorry to tell you but we are letting you go effective immediately.” I pause to allow the person to take it all in – it can sometimes take a few moments. Its hard and its awkward but its absolutely vital to be clear and concise in delivering this news.
2. Offer your sympathy and support
The first time I had to fire someone I was too clinical. I was so focused on delivering the script that I must have seemed cold. The whole thing took 60 seconds. As I’ve progressed in my career, I’ve learned to offer clarity first and then take a moment to empathize and show my support. Even if the person you’re terminating was a terrible employee by any objective measure, its still going to be one of the worst days of their professional lives. You owe them some compassion. Take a moment, once you’ve clearly communicated what is happening, to offer them your sympathy and support.
3. Make sure you have help
Terminating a person is hard and you should take help where you can get it. I almost always have an HR partner to support me in delivering the news. Its an emotional moment for everyone involved and the last thing you want to do is make a mistake in what you say or how you say it. You also want to be able to answer any questions the exiting employee has. Some managers try to do this all themselves but I think that is a mistake most of the time.
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