By Michael Holland

The pressure has been building for months.  You were clear on his performance review 6 months ago.  You were clear 3 months ago when you put him on the performance improvement plan and 1 month ago you met with him to sign the update to the PIP making sure he read the great legalease “blah, blah, blah. . . up to and including termination. . . blah, blah, blah”.  This morning you delivered the final conversation in a brief meeting and he’s now a terminated employee.

Now what do you do?

  • Remain on Edge – Do not let your relief show.  You’ve been carrying the weight of this action for a long time; you’re relieved and almost in a weird way, giddy.  You must remain composed as the news travels and everyone watches you.  How you act right now will speak volumes to your integrity, grit, maturity, grace, humanness and purity of your leadership.
  • Know Your 1 Talking Point – One statement that you’ll repeat again and again.  Make your own spin to whatever HR has told you to say.  Be concise and convey there is no opening for discussion regarding the actual event.
  • Leverage the Story – This one’s tricky, counter-intuitive and seems contrary to the bullet above but you need to fully leverage the story of this event.
    • Someone was terminated because they would not/could not perform up to the standard to which you hold your team.
    • You were completely fair and fully accommodating in the process.
    • You communicated; you over-communicated.
    • You are willing to isolate under performance, make a decision and lead your team.
  • Walk the Floor More Than Usual – You need to be seen and be available.  Your team needs to see you, feel you, know you are still guarding the gate with them, so to speak, protecting their survival, performance and success as team.  They need to see that 1) you are human and 2) are their leader.
  • Walk Forward – Communicate with your team regarding how the work load will be handled in the interim and talk directly to the goal for this season.  Point the team towards the destination you’ve established and start moving towards that destination. Don’t let the team dwell in the mourning; show them how to walk forward by taking those first steps yourself.   
  • Write a Letter – Write a letter to yourself detailing how you truly feel about the event.  Put all your emotions down, especially the ones you can’t say to anyone because they are so inappropriate.  Grab a lighter and burn the letter.

Terminating an employee is one of the most gut-wrenching experiences a manager can have but at times it is necessary.  The process will teach you how to be better at recruiting talent, how to articulate your expectations and how to handle adversity with grace.  And most importantly, remind you of the critical role you play in the lives of employees.

Terminating an employee is one of the most gut-wrenching experiences a manager can have but at times it is necessary. 

And, by the way, if at some point you come to enjoy the termination process, you need to immediately resign as a manager.

Coaching Thoughts – For You and Your Peers

    • How did you feel during and after your first termination?  What did you learn from the process?
    • See it before you do it:  take 15 minutes to visualize a termination and how exactly you would incorporate all the steps above into action.  Practice the process mentally.
    • How does the bullet “Leverage the Story” make you feel?  Why?