Can you fire someone & they say thank you?

Roosevelt famously said ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself’. The same is true when thinking about a tough conversation with an employee. If we anticipate conflict and argument then fear follows. With fear comes a combination of defence and aggression, so we march into the conversation communicating that we expect a fight from the off with our body language and tone of voice. Whatever attitude we take into the meeting will be copied by the individual themselves. If you expect a fight you will get one.

Want do we actually want? Well, we want improvement and if that is not possible for the person to recognize this and leave. And for the conversation itself? We want this to be respectful, honest, calm and solution focused. But how to achieve this outcome?

The first thing to hold in your mind is that you are having this conversation to help the individual. Your only aim is for them is to be happy and successful in their job role, either their current one or another. Remember there is a reason that you are having this conversation. They either don’t fit in the culture or they are failing to make the grade. They will know this, even if they don’t admit it to you, and it does not feel good to fail. Dripping water, over time, wears through stone. A steady sense of failure, over time, erodes self-esteem, confidence and happiness.

The second image to hold strongly in your mind is that, although they may be failing in their current job role with you, they have the capability and potential to be successful somewhere else. Keep talking about what they are good at and where you would see them thriving (amazing how often you do this and they answer with ‘Yeh, my mum always said I would be good at x!’). Thank them for what they have done for you, however small, even if it is just ‘You have a cheeky grin that lights up the floor’.

Introduce the topic of their shortcomings by talking about what the company needs from their current role. Detail it all out, not only the deliverables in terms of figures but also attitude such as positivity, team player, able to work own initiative. By the time you have finished they will have pretty much figured that they are falling short! Just finish the list with ‘And currently you are not meeting those targets’ with some recent examples to demonstrate.

If employment law permits you may then be saying ‘And as a result I regrettably have to let you go’. If not, you will be holding a series of conversations about them improving. Detail the exact short-term improvements you need to witness and set an early review date. If they hit those targets set some more and congratulate yourself on bringing someone back from the brink. If they do not then ask ‘You agreed to deliver x improvements, and yet have not, what happened?’

Eventually, as they continue to fail to hit the improvement targets the realization will be dawning on them that they are not going to make the grade. You then come in with ‘I have no choice but to let you go. I am sad to see you go as you are good at x but you are not fulfilling the key requirements of this role. My hands are tied. However, I wish you the very best of luck in the future and I hope you will seriously consider my opinion that your skills are best suited in y field’.

This is when they say ‘Thank you’.

Sue Ingram MCIPD is Director and Founder of Converse Well, experts in conducting difficult conversations at work. She is an Honorary Teaching Fellow at Lancaster University, contributing workshops on Feedback to students on their International MBA program. Susan has over 25 years experience of conducting crucial conversations with staff, to motivate, to improve performance or to dismiss.