Over the past couple of weeks I have had a tooth removed and had to let a couple of people in my company go. Both for the same reason. Both were painful. Both were necessary.
It’s hard to let people go, whether it’s as part of a layoff or for performance reasons. However there are times when–as the boss– you need to do it.
Keys to letting people go:
- Do it well
- Do it quickly
- Re-assure the remaining employee
Doing it well:
I have fired people and I have been fired. Some days you’re the windshield. Some days you’re the bug. The circle of life. The obvious question that every person being released asks is “why?” This is both an important question and a trap. You don’t want to get into a debate. You aren’t a lawyer arguing before a jury. You are there to communicate a decision that you’ve made. At the same time, the employee has a right to some closure. Tell them the truth–or a version of it–in a way that is honest but respectful. Even in the case of a layoff, people will want to argue about why they should stay and others should be RIF’d. Don’t go there. You don’t need them to agree with your decision–just hear it and accept it.
To the extent that your business conditions allow, be generous. Do a little more than you have to. But also, be consistent with everyone being terminated or RIF’d.
Do it quickly:
I always knew this in my gut but Scott Kurnit, the founder of About.com, really pounded it into me. When you make the decision that someone is not part of your team going forward then terminate them ASAP. And when you terminate them, ask them to leave quickly. You can’t have “dead men walking” hanging around your business for two weeks.
Re-Assure Your Remaining Team:
“Who’s next?” That will be the question zipping around your place of business when you terminate someone. You need to get them re-focused on doing their jobs without appearing heartless about the people who were terminated. When people are terminated for performance reasons, you need to be respectful of their privacy. It is illegal and unethical to say “that guy was a bum” but you can let people know that the position will be re-filled. In the aftermath of a layoff, it’s tempting to say “that’s it, never again”. Unfortunately you can rarely say that. Conditions may stay bad or get worse. All you can say is that you don’t anticipate any more layoffs.It’s not as reassuring, but you will earn their respect for your honesty.
It never gets any easier. I have been a boss for more than 25 years. I have hired and fired lots of people. But terminating under-performing people or excess staff is essential to your business’s health.