How to Fire Compassionately
Mark, I’ve been meaning to tell you how much I admire your ability to make people feel at ease. There have been several times that I’ve seen you step in and help resolve disputes between your co-workers, and I want you to know how much I appreciate that. Your talents as a peacemaker are a valuable part of your skill package, and I’m convinced that we’re probably underutilizing those skills in your current position. Frankly, I’ve often thought you could have a brilliant future as an arbitrator if you ever chose to go that direction, and I’ve occasionally wondered why you’ve never pursued it.
“I also appreciate the fact that you’re the first one here each morning and that you never complain about the long hours. I wish all my employees had your attitude.
“The problem I’m facing today is that your current job description requires a skill package that’s considerably different from yours, even though I consider you to be a highly skilled and extremely valuable employee. I feel like I’ve got the right person, but in the wrong job, and there’s just not a position in the company that fits your skills right now.
“Mark, I’m convinced that you’ve got a bright future, but this company isn’t the right place for you. Even though it may not feel like it today, some day you’re going to thank me for forcing you to find the wonderful job that I’m certain is out there waiting for you. (Handing envelope across the desk.) I’ve prepared a glowing letter of recommendation and enclosed it with your final paycheck. I’m convinced that any company with a job opening that requires a person of your skills is going to call and thank me for making you available.
(Now standing up with hand outstretched for a final handshake.) Some day, I believe you’ll thank me, too.”
Firing with compassion is easier on the employee and it’s easier on you. The only thing less pleasant than being the boss who has to fire an employee is being the employee fired by a boss who needs to feel justified in letting you go. How might Mark have felt if his boss had dismissed him in the traditional way? “Mark, this is the third month in a row you’ve missed your sales goal. Frankly, I believe you could have made those goals if you hadn’t spent so much time sticking your nose where it didn’t belong. Sometimes I think you’re more interested in making sure everyone likes you than in doing your job. You blew the Kowalski deal and you dropped the ball on the McMasters account. You just don’t have the eye of the tiger, boy.
You don’t have the killer instinct. I’m afraid I’m gonna have to let you go. You’ve been a real disappointment. Here’s your final paycheck. Clean out your desk.”
Few days in life feel as bleak as the day one is fired from a job. Why make a difficult time harder than it has to be? Even the worst employee has a few positive traits you can highlight during the termination. Why not let him leave with his dignity intact? Why not let him feel okay about having been “the right person in the wrong job”? It certainly makes it easier for the employee to go home and tell the family what’s happened, and it doesn’t cost you a dime.
Latent abilities are like clay. It can be mud on shoes, brick in a building, or a statue that will inspire all who see it.
The clay is the same. The result is dependent on how it is used.
James F. Lincoln