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Thursday, Aug, 6, 2015

Overcoming Termination Procrastination

It was easy to sympathize with a high powered top women executive who told me she knew she needed to have “the conversation” with her personal assistant andhad postponed this talk for seven years.

“Why?” I asked her. “I have too much heart,” she replied.

Letting someone go, even with ample reason, is difficult. I know it from personal experience and from hearing it on a regular basis from my clients. Although we have all been counseled to “hire slow, fire fast,” there is a reason people stay with the wrong person far too long.

Reasons we procrastinate:

Compassionate Empathy (actual things I have heard...)

  • At their age and low skill level it will be hard for the person to find a new job.
  • They are the sole provider ­such as a single mother with three children.
  • The person has been with the company 27 years.
  • They are ill with a bad diagnosis and will lose their health insurance.
  • Their husband/wife just lost their job.
  • They are a really nice person and a friend but just can’t do their job.
  • They are going through a divorce.

When we think we are acting from compassion we are actually assuming this person is not strong enough to face the reality that they can’t do the job. By protecting them you might be robbing them of what ultimately could be a very important life lesson or the push to look for a better fit to their motivation and skills. They might be miserable in this job.


  • The person will sue me for race or age discrimination.
  • I don’t have everything properly documented, no time to document.
  • Although the person isn’t performing, there is no good successor.
  • I have already fired two other people within the last year. HR and my boss will think there is something wrong with me.
  • This is a position that will really be hard to fill and I can’t afford to have a vacancy in that area.
  • I don’t have the time to train someone new.
  • The person seems a little “off”­ what if they come back with a shotgun? (Ok, this is rather extreme.)
  • Their performance is good but their attitude is toxic. Not sure what to document.

Face the reality of this:­ you are afraid of your employee and have given them the power to hold on to their job even though it is not working for you. Use your energy to address your fear rather than it driving you.

The costs of keeping someone who can’t do the job:

  • It is a time suck. On average, managers spend almost one day a week, or 17 percent of their time, managing underperforming workers, according to asurvey of 1,400 CFO’s by Robert Half International.
  • In the same survey 95% said the poor performance negatively impacted the morale of the team.
  • Adds to the workload of others, causing resentment. The best people are over loaded.
  • The poor performance negatively impacts customer satisfaction, profits and creates lost opportunities.
  • You don’t have “the right person on the bus” to generate the success you want. You have sacrificed your goals to the poor performer.

Two “Conversations” to Terminate with Heart and Dignity

1. The “Give Them A Chance Conversation”

In a face to face meeting (not by phone or email), cover these things:

State the facts: Here is what I need to see: job expectations (can be either job performance expectations or impact on the culture expectations), and by when. Imagine the right person in the job: What would they be doing? Be prepared to then state your evaluation of their performance.

Listen with your heart and mind. Be present and feel a deeper connection. Be open that the person has a legitimate reason­. Maybe they don’t have the resources or are not properly trained on a new technology. Maybe they have too much on their plate, they didn’t know the expectations, the job has changed and it is no longer a fit. Take accountability where appropriate.

Prepare a 60 day Plan: Prepare a written plan about what the person needs to do to achieve the results you need. You might support them with training, additional resources or anything else that you think is a legitimate need. OR explore transitioning them to a job more suited to them.

Follow Up: At 30 days have a check in meeting to discuss progress and problems. Be prepared. If you have decided the person is not right it might be hard to see their progress. Ask them how they think it is going. Notice and acknowledge any improvement.

At 60 days, with proper documentation, evaluate whether you can make a judgment or need more time. Provide face to face feedback.

Usually people are doing the best they can but they do not have the motivation or skills to do the job you need done. Explore possibilities of what might be a better fit for their skills.

2. The “I Need to Let You Go Conversation”

Prepare in advance:

Find out from HR the company protocol, severance terms and any outplacement support.

Explore how the job might be redesigned to be a better skill fit or if there is another position that you could offer.

Start exploring how the job can be covered temporarily with outside contractors or other staff. Get the job procedures documented or documentation updated if possible.

Imagine the right person in the role and the impact it will have on you, customers and the team.

Plan to talk at a good time.. Friday morning is good ­as it gives them the weekend to decompress.

They will not be surprised it has come to this if you completed the first phase. The employee might already have their resume on the street (or even are considering leaving on their own rather than be fired).

Don’t beat around the bush.

Directly say in the first sentence that you have reached the conclusion that it is not working out. Restate what you needed and the performance you got. Say you have made the decision to let them go.

Compassionately listen and reflect back their feelings. Do not react to anger or sadness but acknowledge it. Express how difficult this is for you as well. When someone cries or expresses hurt feelings, reflect it back so they know you understand. Expect — and accept without judgment or comment — points of view that are widely divergent from your own.

Consider what you can do to support them: severance, job placement, reassignment, etc. Let them know the skills you see and where they might be a better fit. When I was downsized it meant a lot to me that my boss said “ We know of all the people we let go today that you will be fine. Your skills are very portable.”(This is another topic but if you do need to downsize, it is best to do it all at once, not spread it out over time.)

Let them save face and say goodbye with dignity

After the above conversation, give them an hour to mingle and say goodbye to their co-workers before they gather their things and leave the building. It is a bad idea for everyone to let them stay on another week or two after they have been fired.

As their boss you are the only one with the power to make this change and it will ultimately benefit everyone. Doing it with fairness and compassion is critical, because the “safety” that every team member feels is measured by how the most vulnerable person is treated.

Connie Meyer is president of Performance Partners, a management consulting firm in the Washington DC area. She supports clients in developing healthy, thriving, organizations.

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