Over the last month or so, I’ve been on a few phone calls with shop owners that have been struggling with the idea on when to pull the trigger on termination for an employee.
They know they need to do it, but the fear of the unknown governs their inaction.
In each case, as we discussed the reasons behind their desire it became clear to them that termination was the only route to take.
But what took them so long?
This article is about dealing with that stress, anxiety, and drama when you have to fire someone. If you are a manager or a leader in a company, bookmark this because sooner or later this task will fall to you.
3 Things to Consider Before Termination
Before you get to the point where termination is the only decision, there is a lot that should happen in front of that thinking. How much of the problem could be attributed to something else?
For starters, why did you hire the person anyway?
What expectations were defined? Was there a job description and outline of duties and performance objectives? How well have you been managing this person?
Typically when an employee isn’t pulling their weight, it is easy to give them the stink eye and start thinking about replacing them. However, before you go down that road consider doing a little research first.
What I always dig into are these three ideas:
Do they have enough time to properly do their work? Mistakes happen when there isn’t enough time and people hurry through something to get it finished. If your concern is regarding any type of quality control challenge that the employee is having this is something worth looking into.
Maybe if they had more time, or an extra pair of hands to help the task would be completed with the quality you need.
Be fair and reasonable. Sure, Susie could do it faster, but she’s better trained and has been working for you for 12 years. Frank is six months into the job, so it takes longer for him to complete the same task. Maybe getting Susie to mentor Frank on best practices, ergonomics, and organizational tips can help Frank speed up.
Here’s a big question. Do they properly know how to do their job?
Yeah, I know. You “showed them how” to do something. But is that quality training? Some of the best people in the industry made a raft of mistakes before something clicked and they caught on. I know I did. Some people have to have multiple training sessions and explanations before they get it.
Make sure you are emphasizing this. If you have staff members where English is a second language, how are you communicating the training instructions?
Build your training so it is easy to understand and obtain. Your job is to help people succeed.
What are they using to do their job? State of the art, or a wheezing, coughing pile of junk? Also, let’s lump in the tools and consumables that other people bring to someone that they may have to use in the course of their work.
Is it the printers fault that the job won’t register if your screen tension is 12 N/cm?
Maybe the embroidery operator keeps getting those thread breaks and bird nesting because purchasing sought to save some pennies on their stock thread?
What about the DTG operator that has muddy files because the art is set up in the wrong color mode?
Is your team trying to work with software that hasn’t been upgraded since 2001?
Before you point the crooked finger of blame on someone, make sure that the equipment they are using is working properly and right for the job. Ask questions. My favorite is always, “What do you need to do your job better?”
How involved is the leadership for this employee?
Great managers elevate performance by guiding, coaching, and mentoring their staff. They are involved. Active.
You can’t effectively manage people in this industry without getting involved and going to where the work is performed. If you think you can manage your crew from your office, you are sadly mistaken.
So, before you get to the point where you are filling out a pink slip to let someone go…be sure you have done all you could to interact and get the employee on the right track. Maybe they simply need a helpful word from someone with authority.
Don’t take me wrong. Hold people accountable. Just make sure your decisions are based on real information and are fair.
On The Other Hand
So you’ve done all that.
Deep down in your gut, you know that Fred isn’t a good fit. His performance is always sub-par. He’s got a crappy attitude also, and it affects others around him. It’s distracting.
Here’s a word I want to you to learn today.
Like a detective on a cop show, build your case and put it in a file. There are some basic tools for this. The first one being your Employee Handbook. These are the rules and guidelines you are using to manage your staff. When Fred acts up or doesn’t follow the rules you need to hold him accountable. Make him aware of the fact that you are noticing and documenting inappropriate behavior.
My favorite quote for handling employees is from Navy SEAL Jocko Willinek, “It’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate.”
So whether it is employees constantly coming in late, or using their cell phones on the production floor, it is up to you to enforce this. Your employee handbook is useless if you don’t follow what it says. As they say, the tiger needs some teeth.
Record of Meeting Form
One tip I’ve used successfully for years is the “Record of Meeting” form. (Grab one here and use it, replace my logo with yours)
This gem is a tool that you can bring out to emphasize a particular expectation that the company has, and how the employee is expected to follow it. I’ve been using it for years, and it helps clear the air. Write on the form and describe the situation. Refer to the proper way things should happen. List consequences or anything that might happen if they don’t elevate their performance to meet the standard. Have the employee sign the form.
This is NOT a disciplinary form, where they are “getting into trouble”. Rather, this is management reviewing the proper aspects of how something should happen and making sure the employee completely understands. When they sign the form, that means that it’s in their skull and they comprehend.
This completely stops the “you never told me” or “I didn’t know that” line of excuses.
It also adds to the paper trail that you have been managing your employees correctly. So when Fred pulls his next, “can you believe he just did that?” stunt. You might already have something in his file that absolutely proves he knows better.
Importance of Metrics
Another great tool to use is metrics.
How many outbound calls a day should your sales person make? Do you have an established average for setup time in production or run speed for the press? What is the quality control percentage you tolerate? How many screens a day should Reclaiming handle?
It’s been said “You can’t manage what you don’t measure”, and data puts things in perspective. It also allows you to have conversations with specific points and goals that can be outlined.
At first, you have to measure to set the baseline. If you aren’t doing any sort of data gathering for your shop, this sets the starting point for what’s going on now. It’s not either good or bad…it simply is where you are now. From there, you can decide if you are comfortable with the averages. Need more? Build the way to do that and set goals.
But, that’s not what we are talking about today.
If you have metrics for the department, how does your problem-child employee fit in? If they are grossly underperforming, look to the tips I’ve outlined above on getting them on the right track.
Work with the employee and make sure they have everything they need to be a success. Literally ask them, “How can we help you get better?” If they care about their job at all, they will tell you.
But here’s the sad fact. Some people that work for you may not care for the job. In their mind, it’s “just a paycheck”. Similar to pruning weeds in your garden, removing these types of poor attitude employees from your shop can vastly improve the morale and overall performance of your entire team.
Metric-based performance decisions can help you with that weeding-out process.
This is exactly as it sounds. As employees dig themselves deeper into a hole, there should be a series of conversations addressing the situation. This should be outlined in your Employee Handbook and used whenever there is a problem.
Ideally, challenges are discussed immediately. It’s really difficult to discuss something that happened a few weeks ago with the same fervor as discussing yesterday’s infraction, today. Don’t put things off.
Always have these meetings with another manager in the room.
For a Progressive Discipline program to work, follow these steps:
This is the verbal counseling part of the program. Start by asking questions.
“Hey, I noticed that…” is a good way to start. Get to the bottom of what’s going on. Set up that the employee isn’t meeting the standard.
Let them know that whatever they are doing won’t be tolerated and there is a world of hurt headed their way if they continue.
This is step one for getting fired. The employee needs to know that. This is a fork in the road for them. Either they continue down the road and that will eventually lead to termination, or they shape up and head back to the light.
It’s 100% up to them.
The form is a document that outlines the reasons why they were written up specifically. There should be room on it for the employee’s side of the story. There should be a section that also outlines what will happen next if there is another infraction with a timeline listed.
Both the employee and the direct supervisor sign the form. This is a written record and goes into their employee file.
You can do this a few times over a longer period of time, but don’t make it a habit with an employee. There are only so many times you can skydive without a parachute, is how you should view this.
After the written warnings are when suspensions kick in. At least one business day without pay.
This tells your problematic employee that you mean what you say when you take away their opportunity to earn money. You have to do this, even if it means that you are running a machine for the day or doing something you don’t want to do. A lot of shops fail to properly discipline their employees because there is no one to do the work so the employee feels that they have leverage.
You have to prove to them that they do not.
This also is where an “Employee Performance Improvement Plan” should kick in. This is a detailed and planned discussion on what the employee needs to do to save their job. How are you measuring? When will you meet next? What does success look like for the PIP plan? Detail it out and discuss.
One final thing, I’ve always managed employees so that if you get suspended you are automatically ineligible for a pay raise for at least one year.
Then, if nothing works out comes the step everyone dreads.
Real life isn’t a game show. While there sometimes is a certain satisfaction from handling that task in a melodramatic manner, it pays to be professional. Below are some steps to take when considering termination for an employee.
- Be sure it is the right decision. Is there anything you can do to bring them around?
- Get prepared. Do you have all of the documentation ready? They went through the Progressive Discipline cycle, correct?
- After they leave who is doing their job? Are you moving someone into their slot or replacing them with a new employee? Be sure to outline the transition and get prepared.
- Change all of their access. Passwords, keys, and anything that they possess that could cause you damage. Ask for keys and credit cards.
- Do not let them go to their desk to tidy up. You will take care of that for them and ship them their personal stuff.
- Don’t have the meeting alone. Have another manager or someone for a witness.
- Have everything ready in a folder. Their last paycheck. COBRA information. Severance, if you are giving one. Have everything written down. Verify their home address for W-2 mailings later.
- Try to have the meeting either at the start of the day before everyone comes in and gets busy or at the end of the day.
- Absolutely do not apologize. “I’m sorry” is not professional. You are not sorry.
- Keep it short. Explain what’s going on and that’s it. This is not a debate.
- Lastly, if they have been managed correctly most of the time they will not be surprised. In fact, some terminated employees may even be shocked that they lasted this long.
The Light At The End Of The Tunnel
One final word of advice. Terminating an employee, when you know you need to do it isn’t fun. But, like a ripping off a band-aid on your arm, just do it and get it over with. Don’t dwell on it.
Remember that this problem employee will soon become someone else’s headache.
You have wasted too much time on them already. Think about how much better it will be!
“Understanding your employee’s perspective can go a long way towards increasing productivity and happiness.” – Richard Branson
“The five steps in teaching an employee new skills are preparation, explanation, showing, observation, and supervision.” – Bruce Barton
“An employee’s motivation is a direct result of the sum of interactions with his or her manager.” – Bob Nelson
Wishing You Had An Employee Handbook?
Do you wish your shop had an Employee Handbook like bigger companies?
Maybe you’ve thought about it, but it simply seems too daunting a task to start. After all, thinking up the guidelines for your shop is hard.
Who has time for that?
One of the sections in the “Shop Basic Info Pack” is a template you can use today. All you need to do is add your shop’s info.
Get that idea off of your “to do” list and on your “done” list.
Buy the “Shop Basic Info Pack” eBook for $49 and start giving your employees the clear expectations they need to work correctly.
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