Guest Post – A. Michael Hiles & Associates Inc. www.hilesassociates.com
A badly planned termination can cost a lot of money due to inflated settlements, high legal fees, soured employee relations and an ongoing “problem file”.
When performance is an issue, documentation is often a problem or just missing. Unless you have maintained a file with written warnings to the employee, you should not pursue a termination “for cause”.
In terminations “without cause”, you will almost certainly have to indemnify the employee. Regardless of the history of marginal performance, it is important not to mix “with Cause” and “without cause” issues.
Therefore, unless you have solid documentation, you should avoid any reference to past performance issues during the termination meeting or in the accompanying letter. Discuss only the company’s decision to terminate employment and the modalities – nothing else.
The meeting should focus on communicating the decision in clear-cut terms – you should communicate firmly but as kindly as possible. The meeting should be short – not more than about 10 minutes. Your purpose is to get a simple message across – definitely not to discuss and debate any element of the decision. If necessary, schedule another meeting after emotions have subsided.
What You Should Say
In difficult cases, it is a good idea to consult with a professional with great experience. He or she will coach you in how to handle the meeting, what to say, how to structure the termination letter, and with the modalities of the employee’s departure.
A typical text might be: “Mr./Ms. X, we regret to have to tell you that management has taken a decision to abolish your position. The reasons are current financial pressures/market conditions/reorganization (keep this short and general and do not discuss performance unless you have excellent documentation “for cause”).
Then say “Unfortunately we do not have another position for you, so we have prepared a generous settlement that will help you during the period between now and your next endevour. We have additionally engaged a consultant who will help you with the transition and the work of finding another position”.
Sometimes employees do not fully take in what they have just been told. At this point try to get some reaction to assure the he/she has grasped the situation. Avoid arguments, and do not discuss performance. You might ask if this has come as a surprise, or a similar question. You should also ask if the employee if he/she has any questions, which you should try to answer briefly in a neutral and gentle way, to avoid provoking an emotional reaction.
Thank The Employee
At an appropriate moment say “We want to thank you for your efforts and long/loyal service”.
“We understand that this is probably a shock, so we have engaged a consultant to help and advise you during the transition period. Please use his services and rely on his advice. He will assist you to develop a professional CV, teach you interviewing skills, negotiating techniques and other related skills. He will work with you as long as you require. He is here now and is prepared to meet with you.”
Ending The Meeting
You should now say “We have prepared this letter that sets out the financial settlement I mentioned earlier. Please review at home, and get back to me by Tuesday (not more than 5 days). I now want to introduce you to your job search coach.”
It may be necessary to say something about leaving the premises, returning keys, laptops, cell phones, collecting personal effects etc. In addition, you should immediately alert the IT Manager to disable emails and security access codes etc.
About the Author: Dejan Ristic
In 2004, I founded Exceleris. In addition to managing all recruitment aspects of Exceleris, I have consulted (as CFO or in similar roles) with a number of technology companies (both publicly traded and venture funded start-ups)....