How to Terminate an Employee (Part 2)
Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.
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This article follows the one from last week about performance management and the possible termination of an underperforming team member.
You have done your work to coach the person, you have given them warnings and time to fix things and you have put them on a performance management plan. But nothing is working. It happens; it doesn’t mean the employee is bad. They might be in the wrong role at the wrong time. It doesn’t mean you are not a good coach. You might not have been able to get through to this person. It doesn’t mean the employee couldn’t add value somewhere else in your practice or firm.
It means you have reached the end of a road with this person, and it is time to move on.
Before you get there, let’s look at the conversation you want to have with your employee to ensure you have done all you can to help them make an important shift.
1. Prepare for any difficult conversation by taking a bit of time to measure your own emotional quotient (EQ). Have you identified where you and this employee have sameness or difference? Do you know how they communicate most effectively? Have you understood why they are struggling to perform? Most people do not get up in the morning expecting to underperform; when someone does, there is likely something else going on. Do you know what it is?
2. Consider whether you have employed a “Socratic” versus “autocratic” approach with this employee. It is the easiest thing to tell someone else what they should be doing, and even how they should be doing it. It is the hardest thing to be patient and interested in why they are doing it the way they are, or to understand the world from their seat. Listening with empathy and practicing active listening and open-ended questioning might give you an a-ha about your employee’s views and obstacles.
3. Be sure the goals are clear and aligned with what the employee is being asked to do. I know this sounds simple, but it’s hard to express the number of times I’ve seen employees struggle with what they need to do, why they need to do it and how to get it done. Take the time to reinforce expectations and outcomes with your team member and get the buy-in they know and understand what’s expected. It’s impossible for anyone to make a behavior change without seeing what success looks like and connecting the performance to why it matters. If you believe you have reinforced goals, do it one more time just to be sure.
When nothing is working, you are frustrated and the employee is frustrated, it is time to have “the talk.” This is where you let the person know it just isn’t going to work out. No one likes a messy breakup. It’s important you handle this well. You want your employee to leave feeling respected and supported. You don’t want any nasty comments showing up on Glassdoor, which might prevent you from getting your next best candidate.
This isn’t easy. Most managers want to get it over with, or they delegate it to HR or to a subordinate. They might like the team member very much and not want to hurt their feelings. Being direct yet supportive is key at this stage.
1. Have the meeting in person or at minimum over Zoom or some on-screen platform. It isn’t fair or appropriate or respectful to send an email, a text or let someone else have this conversation. You want to have a former employee speaking highly of the way they were treated. Stand out and stand up; meet the person face-to-face.
2. Revisit and review what has gone on so far. If you read part 1 last week, you know about steps you need to take before a termination. Walk through these steps with your employee and remind them of what you have done, the conversations you have had and their responses (for example, a commitment they made to follow through where they did not do so).
3. Provide data and facts. The hardest termination is where you “feel” things are going one way and the employee “feels” they are going another way. Everyone has their filter on the world. You likely will not see eye-to-eye with someone who believes you are in the wrong, and they are in the right. Trying to get someone like this to embrace your viewpoint is an exercise in futility. Have as many proof points as you possibly can. It’s especially important, if you have done a good job coaching the person and having them on a performance plan, that you walk through timeframes, expectations, accountability and lack of follow through. Some team members can believe they were “set up” and there never was an intention to make it work. You need to disprove this by showing the steps, timelines, expectations and so on.
4. Be fair in the exit process. Unless the person has been stealing from you, or wreaking havoc or gossiping with all of the team members – in which case you needed to manage them out ages ago – be kind. Don’t have all their technology turned off while you are in the conversations and don’t have security escort them to the door. Don’t make your employee feel like they are an enemy of the firm. Again, if you have reason to suspect they are being nefarious or are untrustworthy, you want to adopt a different position. But if they have been trying and are a loyal employee otherwise, consider a supportive exit. I spent much of my career in a very large organization where I fired many people and had to work with legal to do so. I respect that your firm may dictate what happens in a termination. But if you do have any control, consider the send-off and how you want your employee to remember they were treated at the very end.
5. Lastly, share with the employee your insights on what type or role or organization might be beneficial for them. I know this sounds strange when you are working someone out of your organization. But you could provide a lot of benefit for this person for their next phase if you provide guidance and direction on what you think they should be doing, and in what culture or company. I once had someone tell me the managing-out conversation with me was better than most of his previous positive reviews because I helped him see where he could make a difference. Take an interest. Provide insight. Your team member will remember this and appreciate it.
As I mentioned in last week’s column, none of this is meant to take the place of a very good HR support person or an employment lawyer to advise you on best practices for your practice or firm. These are considerations to use during one of the most difficult things a leader and manager has to address.
Beverly Flaxington co-founded The Collaborative, a consulting firm devoted to business building for the financial services industry in 1995. The firm also founded and manages the Advisors Sales Academy. She is currently an adjunct professor at Suffolk University teaching undergraduate and graduate students Entrepreneurship and Leading Teams. Beverly is a Certified Professional Behavioral Analyst (CPBA) and Certified Professional Values Analyst (CPVA).
She has spent over 25 years in the investment industry and has been featured in Selling Power Magazine and quoted in hundreds of media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, MSNBC.com, Investment News and Solutions Magazine for the FPA. She speaks frequently at investment industry conferences and is a speaker for the CFA Institute.