At some point in every manager’s career, there comes a time when you will need to terminate someone’s employment. Typically, this situation falls into one of two categories – a corporate layoff due to cost cutting / restructuring or letting an employee go for performance-related issues. Regardless of the reason, it’s a difficult situation that requires careful planning and execution, compassion, and, for legal reasons, brevity.
The challenge in letting people go is acknowledging the fact that it’s not personal and doing your best to remain cognizant of that throughout the process. Now, while I understand this is easy to “write”, I am very well aware of the fact that work becomes personal for many people. Further, for many people, some of their closet relations have formed through their work so, again when I say, it’s technically not personal, I recognize that it very much is.
Recently, I was mentoring a manager and he was describing for me a challenging situation at work. He explained that he had come to the decision of terminating employment for a direct report. Unfortunately, the direct report wasn’t performing and was on a PIP (performance improvement program) and things were not shaping up for the better. The greatest challenge, as he said, was that the direct report was liked very much by his peers, was a great person, and, to make it worse, was going through a very difficult time in his personal life. To quote the manager directly, “It would be way easier if this guy was jerk but he’s so nice… couple that with his personal situation. I know this guy really needs this job but he’s just not working out and his mistakes are gaining executive visibility. I need to let him go otherwise this will reflect poorly on me and it’s not fair to everyone else in the department… I just feel horrible!”
After engaging in a dialogue with the manager to ensure that I had a complete grasp of the situation, I paused, and calmly explained to him that he was making a mistake and he couldn’t see it. Needless to say, this statement caught him off guard (which, candidly was my intent because it helped him break out of his way of current thinking) and he became re-focused.
“Look,” I said, “I understand the situation and I have been there myself. First, we must never forget that business is between people – not systems, companies, etc. – PEOPLE. Second, by you keeping this person employed and giving them repeated options to improve their performance when all you are really doing is delaying the inevitable, you’re actually doing them a disservice. It’s only when you set them free, will you allow them the option to find another position that is better aligned with their skills thereby really allowing them to be in a position to earn their success.”
Our meeting ended and I felt comfortable that the guidance that I provided was best for everyone in the long run. A few days later, I received an e-mail from the manager who explained to me that he ended up having the conversation with the employee and released him from his employment. The direct report understood the situation, and thanked the manager for supporting him for as long as he did.
Win – Win. The manager, not only learned a new lesson, but also achieved his objective of removing an under performer from the organization making room for someone who was better qualified for the position. The direct report, now, has the ability to embark upon a new journey that will hopefully bring him success too, because had he been allowed to remain in his current situation, it was only a matter of time before he would have been let go thereby delaying his “new start”.
Lesson: Letting an employee go is never an easy task. As stated above, it requires careful planning and execution, compassion, and, for legal reasons, brevity. More importantly, it requires the insight to know that by keeping them, you are doing them, you, and others in the company a disservice.
To your continued success…