Terminating an employee may be the hardest thing to do for a manager. I had a pit in my stomach for days before I had to do it the first time. However, keeping the right people on the team and removing people that are not effective is a critical role of a good manager.
First, let’s lay out a framework for how to decide if someone can be coached into a better performer, or needs to be terminated.
A) You should coach a poor performing employee when:
- They put in genuine effort but lack specific technical skills
- They have a few specific weaknesses, but many strengths
- They are eager to learn, even if they lack the skill sets needed
- They embody the company’s culture and are not a jerk
B) You should terminate an employee when:
- They are not putting in effort, even after being called out for it
- They have deep weaknesses in the most important areas for their role
- They don’t learn quickly or on their own, and avoid coaching
- They fail to live the company’s culture, and are difficult to work with
If you have someone for category A, your goal is to provide coaching and mentorship. There is potential for them to turn into a higher performing employee.
If you have someone from category B, it’s likely that they need to be removed from the team. Below is a 10 step employee termination process:
1. Outline what the problem is
The first step in the process is defining what isn’t working with the employee and writing it down. Is it that they do sloppy work and miss details, or are they not effective at communicating with customers? You need to have a well articulated reason for why they need to be let go.
2. Gather documentation
In today’s legal world, it’s important to have documentation on why someone is being terminated so they cannot claim you fired them because of discrimination. This documentation might be emails they’ve sent, deliverables they’ve created or their weekly status updates.
3. Have an initial discussion with the employee
Once you have a clear picture of what is going wrong, the next step is to have an honest, open conversation with the employee. This is not the conversation to terminated them. Instead, it’s “raising a red flag” by saying “There is a lot that isn’t working. Here are several examples. How can we solve this?” This conversation will be uncomfortable — it requires that you lay out the problems on the table and give the employee on opportunity to ask for clarification.
It’s important that you take this step so an employee isn’t surprised if they ultimately get fired, and they have an opportunity to correct the behavior. Unfortunately, very few employees at this stage actually correct the behavior.
4. Put them on a performance improvement plan (PIP)
Now that you’ve clearly explained to the employee what the issues are, they need to either improve their performance or they will get terminated. To track that potential performance improvement, put them on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). A PIP documents in writing what isn’t working and the specific ways you are going to measure if performance improves or not. It’s another important step to ensure that it’s clear someone is being terminated for performance reasons, not discrimination.
5. Have regular checkins to share if performance is improving
A PIP typically lasts for 2–4 weeks. During this time, you should have checkins with the employee to give feedback on whether or not they are successfully improving as defined in the PIP.
You can now decide whether to proceed with terminating them or not:
If they improved their performance, great! They are now in Category A from above, and you can focus on coaching them.
If they are still not performing, proceed with steps 6–10.
6. Identify how you’ll fill the gap from their role
When someone needs to be fired, it means they are performing so poorly that having them walk out the door often won’t create a massive business disruption. However, they may still have responsibilites that need to be accounted for, so you’ll need to ask other people on the team to cover their role or monitor their company email account until you’ve hired a replacement.
7. Coordinate with HR
At this point in the employee termination process, you are ready to proceed with the nitty gritty of firing the person. You should meet with your HR leader to review the documentation you’ve gathered and ensure she is aligned on what is happening. She will prepare some additional paperwork, including any legal letters and the employee’s final check. Some companies give severance (i.e. you continue paying a terminated employee for a short period of time while they find a new job). Doing so is totally dependent on your company policies and finances.
8 Schedule an early morning meeting
I recommend terminating someone first thing in the morning, ideally before everyone else arrives. You should schedule the meeting the day before. If someone is on a performance improvement plan, they probably know that it is coming and won’t be too surprised. You should always have someone else in the room, ideally your HR leader.
9. Make the conversation quick and respectful
The meeting itself should be very quick, ideally just a few minutes. As soon as you sit down, you need to come right out with the news. I usually say something like “We need to have a difficult conversation. Unfortunately, things aren’t working out here and today is going to be your last day at the company.”
If the employee argues, you cannot engage and need to end it quickly. You can say something like “Unfortunately this decision is already finalized, so it won’t be productive to go back and forth on it right now.”
You need to be incredibly respectful and compassionate. Just because this person isn’t the right fit for your organization doesn’t mean he’s evil. Be encouraging, have a box of tissues and treat the employee like a human.
10. Help them smoothly transition out
You’ve completed the hard meeting and now you just need to help the employee respectfully exit the building. If they are visibly upset, you may suggest they go for a walk and come back later to get their things. You can offer to help them gather things from their desk as well. You may need to answer some questions about transitioning any work, or about unemployment benefits.
At the end of the employee termination process, you should walk them out, shake their hand, genuinely thank them for their efforts and wish them the best for finding something new.
Need more help?
I do a limited amount of consulting each month.