To terminate is to bring to an end.  If you have had to terminate someone you know things don’t get much harder or sadder.  Most managers dread this part of the job more than any other.  They are concerned for the team member—How will this person get a job?  What will he or she do? In fact, especially today, losing a job can be catastrophic.   Because of a sense of guilt, uncertainty about the decision, legal concerns, and excuse after excuse by the team member, many managers don’t let poor performers go.   And when they do take action almost every termination conversation is stressful.

Keeping poor performers on the team is a disservice to other team members, clients, and the organization—and to the salesperson him or herself.  Low performers often create resentment from other team members.  Lower standards are infectious and can bring down the aspiration level of other team members.  Taking action puts other low performers on notice.  And taking action help mangers meet goal and ensures clients get the value and care they need.

Time and time again I have been told by salespeople and sales managers who have lost their jobs that the worse part was not the termination itself but how the message was delivered and to quote a colleague how the message was dropped like a bomb.

When it is time to let a team member go the process you use while it does not change the result, significantly changes the experience and reduces chances of litigation.  Know how makes managers more confident and compassionate and team members more accepting.  The big enemy in a termination meeting is surprise.

DO’s and DON’Ts

Do:  Prepare. Review employee handbook.  Consult with HR and legal, inform IT and security.  Calculate final compensation and severance when appropriate, finalize all paperwork, bring all materials, and documentation. Prepare a package of what to do next to help with the unknown and provide direction.

Don’t have the termination conversation alone.  Ideally include a colleague from HR or your peer as a witness.

Do:  Set an appointment, ideally face-to-face in a private setting.  Set the tone with a serious voice.

Don’t share the reason for the meeting when you set the appointment.  If asked say that you prefer to have the discussion in person or if the discussion will be by phone when there will be adequate time.

Do:  Start with the end in mind.  The first message you deliver should let the person know that he or she is being let go.  This is non-negotiable.

Don’t change the decision  (unless new and compelling information is presented which is not the norm)

Do:  Lead coaching sessions, a final Consequence Coaching meeting (session in which you clearly spell out the objectives to be accomplished, the time frame to accomplish them, and most importantly the CONSEQUENCE if the objectives are not met—i.e. the person will lose his or her job), and document in writing all along prior to the termination meeting. If you do not have documentation meet with HR and consider putting the person on a 30, 60, 90-day performance plan.

Don’t surprise the team member. In fairness to the person this should never come as a surprise (unless it is a immediate egregious act or part of corporate downsizing). When there is any element of surprise there will be resistance and resentment.

Do: Keep your explanation SHORT but specific to the driving reason—for example, “We set x objective to be accomplished by … and it was not met.  Your performance has not …” Detailed feedback should have been given in performance reviews and short falls worked on in coaching sessions.  There are two reasons to keep the meeting short: 1) you do not want to get into an argument or big discussion—the decision has been made and is non-negotiable.  While clear feedback is very important for growth it should have already been given.  2) There is no need to further hurt the person’s feeling.  The person may vent and ask questions. Listen and repeat your concise message.

Don’t give a long list of all of failures.  It will only put salt on the wound, create hard feelings, and provoke an argument.

Do: Follow company policy.  Clearly set out next steps, clarify the effective date (in many companies this means clearing the person’s desk immediately as harsh as that sounds), communicate severance, email access,…  Identify who will accompany the team member to his/her desk.   Offer any resources such as taking calls for the team member, whether or not you will provide a reference.

Don’t apologize but say you wish things had worked out differently and extend best wishes for the future.  Avoid Friday terminations. Monday is actually better because the team member can start making contacts more easily during the week.

It is nice to believe that you are doing the person a favor because he or she can pursue more appropriate work or take inventory of his or her strengths and weaknesses.   And while this often is the best thing for the person it’s hard for most people to recognize at the time of termination.

I have always favored models as a way to put a more simple frame around things that are complex.  A model to follow:

Prepare for the conversation/prepare your organization.

Set an appointment.

State the decision at the start of the meeting.

Give a short specific reason based on previous feedback and objectives set in the consequence meeting.  Avoid a litany of the person’s  failures.  Listen and repeat as necessary.

Clarify separation terms and next steps. Provide necessary paperwork.

Express best wishes and hope for the future.

What the model does not include is the approach you take.  Be as considerate as possible. Compassion combined with making sure nothing in the meeting is a surprise to the salesperson or you are the keys to avoid burning bridges.    It is your obligation to have provided feedback and the team member’s obligation to have made the necessary improvement.

Concerns about litigation has tempered termination conversations and added another dimension of stress to these already challenging conversations.  Nevertheless I think it is important to express at the conclusion that you regret things worked out as they did and wish the person success in the future.  Always keep your content objective but your tone collaborative and human.

Maybe it’s the movie The Terminator but the word termination seems unnecessarily brutal to me. You are terminating the job, possibly the relationship but not the person’s future.  Never be harsh or angry. It is not the time for you to get things off your chest.  It is not about you.  It is about and for the person being let go. Prepare yourself mentally and stay calm and caring.  Keep it brief but not rushed.

I started with the definition of termination—to bring to an end.  Behaviorally that is what you are doing.  But the emotional tone you set, one of caring and respect will make a difference in the short and long run.   Your team member is walking out without a job.  Do all you can to make sure it is with dignity and hope for the future.  No matter how bad the team member has been show you have heart.