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Title: solutions
Case Study Index
Case Study Six

"As a small business owner, I can't afford to keep non-performers. But I can't seem to say the words, 'You're fired.' What can I do?"

Issue: Anyone who manages people is faced with the prospect of firing someone at one time or another in their career. But that doesn't make it any easier when the time comes. Uttering the words, 'You're fired,' is difficult for the obvious reasons—you hold the power to professionally derail someone, and it's not a good feeling. But beyond the obvious, you fear the immediate discomfort of the situation that follows at the same time that you're unsure of exactly how to handle any unexpected repercussions that may follow.

Challenge: In this case, the business owner wasn't sure that he was on solid ground when he made a decision to release an employee. Our job was not solely to help him through this transition in particular. It was to create the framework that would assure that, should a decision to fire someone become necessary, the business owner would be confident that he had done everything right.

Solution: Our role was twofold: 1) to help management honestly assess whether firing was the best answer and, 2) to assess current company policies, revising outdated or unrealistic strategies with policies that could serve as a road map should it become necessary to release an employee for non-performance.

Here's what we did:

1. We developed an employee handbook that put company policies in writing and we made sure each employee had a copy. It included a section on "progressive discipline" which addressed the oral and written warnings that precede a termination.

2. We created position descriptions to outline the nature and scope of each new hire's job. Then we instituted a 90-day probation period to evaluate new hires.

3. We instituted mid-year progress reviews and annual salary reviews as a tool for giving and documenting honest feedback to employees.

4. We coached management on how to proceed, when finally facing a decision to fire: Do it honestly; deliver the message gently; make it brief but specific; and have a witness in the room. Most important, try to end it on as good terms as possible given the circumstances. Behaving badly reflects poorly on your company and gets back to the employees who still work for you.

5. Lastly, we introduced the owner to the concept of 'evolution not revolution.' 'Evolution not revolution' is predicated on the idea that it is usually better to create a contributing employee out of a current hire, than to have to start anew with an unknown. Turnover in positions can be costly [as much as 100% of the departing employee's salary], and there's little guarantee that the replacement will be a better match. We remind you that not all sub-standard performers are a lost cause. It can be more cost-effective and less traumatic to spend time re-training and coaching the employee to success within the company. Make sure the problem is the employee and not a management structure that has failed to help them develop.


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LINDA B. RULE & ASSOCIATES is ready to help you get the job done.

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