Today’s Dear Coach is about the discomfort of firing bad employees. Being a small business owner requires tenacity and a certain toughness. But that doesn’t mean that looking someone in the eye and taking away their livelihood is an easy action to take. I like to remind clients that an employee can be a good person and a bad fit. I personally have used what I call The “Three Strikes” Policy, and it helps to keep actions respectful and timely. Here’s what you can do:
Meeting One, you sit down with your employee and let them know that you’ve observed some areas of their performance you’d like to help them improve:
- Give them some examples of their current choices or behavior.
- Communicate what the standard is that you would like them to achieve.
- Ask how you can help them.
Maybe they need information, training, or technology to help them be successful. Go into the meeting with an open mind and be prepared to act on constructive, realistic feedback. End the meeting by recapping the actions you each commit to, and set a follow up meeting. Be sure to document in their file a summary of your conversation.
By Meeting Two, either the employee’s performance will have improved, or the employee still has progress to make.
- If they’ve improved, give them specific examples of what you’ve noticed and be sure to let them know how much you appreciate their effort. You don’t want an employee to feel backed into a corner with no place to go. They need to know that they can make mistakes or receive constructive criticism, but as long as they learn and respond there is no need to fear for their job.
- If they have not improved, give them specific examples of what you’ve noticed. Re-extend the invitation to share with you any obstacles and how you can help resolve them. End the meeting by recapping the actions you each commit to, and set a follow up meeting. Again, document in their file a summary of your conversation.
Meeting Three is when many small business owners start getting the sweats. Small businesses are often like second families, so parting ways with an employee can be upsetting. But, feelings of guilt and anxiety over firing one employee can wind up wreaking havoc with your entire business. Prolonging the decision de-motivates high performing employees who see an under-performing co-worker continue to collect a paycheck. You can be a compassionate, respectful human being and fire an employee. So:
- If by the third meeting the employee is still not performing to the company’s standards, the polite and honest thing to do is to let them know that it’s time to part ways.
- You may choose to give them severance pay in addition to their last paycheck. That’s up to your judgment.
- Be sure to document in their employee file that you fired them for failure to perform based on your prior conversations.
I encourage you to have an HR specialist or an attorney with HR experience in your circle of advisors, so you have an established resource to give you guidance as needed.