Matt Heinz wrote a terrific piece, How To Fire Someone With Dignity, Grace, And Respect. Be sure to read it, few have handled this touchy topic as well as Matt does.
It struck a nerve. Too often, I see performance based terminations actually executed as “Layoff’s” or “RIF’s.” Typically, instead of addressing the performance issue head on, a manager goes to the employee stating, “I’m really sorry, but we are cutting back and your job has been eliminated.”
Usually, there’s some kind of separation agreement, a round of “I’m sorry, good luck in your next role,” the employee is disappointed and confused, but never knows the real reason. It’s made worse, when a few weeks later they see a their former job posted on a website or someone tells them their replacement has been hired.
These days, I see a lot of poor performers terminated, but very few are terminated for performance reasons, but are RIF’ed.
I understand, these are tough conversations, painful for everyone involved. No one in their right mind likes having these conversations. The tendency is, unfortunately, toward avoidance.
Bluntly, not addressing performance issues and terminations head on is gutless, poor management! Managers who do this, aren’t doing their jobs! They are cheating the individual and they are cheating their company! It causes one to question the performance and leadership abilities of managers employing this tactic. If you’re going to fire a person, have the guts to fire them fair and square, don’t hide behind an excuse of a RIF!
The primary reason managers exist is to get things done through their people. Their goal is to maximize the performance of each individual on their team. They do this through setting clear goals and expectations, making sure people understand these goals and expectations, providing them tools/training/support, coaching and developing them. When a person isn’t meeting the goals and expectations, managers must work with them, identifying the gaps, coaching and helping them close them, getting back on target. Most of the rest of manager’s jobs can be handled by administrators, or maybe a few business strategists.
Every organization has problem performers. Often the problems with performance is the person doesn’t understand the goals or expectations, or doesn’t have a clear performance plan in place. So they do the best they can, in the absence of this. It’s hit or miss on whether they are performing. This type of performance can be easily corrected, by management putting the right performance plans in place and making sure the person understands them.
But there are those that aren’t performing. It’s the manager’s responsibility to clearly identify the problems with the performance, work with the individual in developing the plan to close those gaps in performance, and to make sure the individual understands the consequences of not getting the performance in line. Often this is done through a “measured mile,” or some sort of Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). Once the person understand this, it’s the manager’s job to coach and help the individual achieve success–after all that’s really our goal, we don’t want to terminate people, we want to get them to perform.
At the end of this process, some people just won’t close the gap. They won’t, for whatever reasons, be able to get their performance to an acceptable level. They need to be terminated–not RIF’d, but terminate for performance reasons. It should come as no surprise to the individual, if the process I’ve outlined has been followed. The termination needs to be handled directly, with respect. Avoiding the honest, direct, but difficult conversation doesn’t demonstrate respect for those involved. Termination is not an issue of who the person is, it’s an issue of their performance in the role. In the termination discussion, the person should understand this, understand what they might need to do to get similar jobs, or the jobs where they are more likely to achieve success. The person has the right to understand specifically what deficiencies caused them to be terminated.
There are terminations that don’t go through this process. Some are done immediately, usually because someone has done something illegal, unethical, or has violated the business practices of the organization. Even in these, the individual is owed a clear discussion of why he is being terminated.
Using a “Layoff” or “RIF” as the excuse, not going through the PIP process or having the frank discussion about performance cheats the individual. They don’t learn, they don’t have the chance to improve. Chances are, they will go into another job and make the same mistakes, or they will go into a job they clearly can’t do and will fail.
Using a “Layoff” or “RIF” cheats the company. People see non-performance with their peers, if they don’t see management addressing performance problems head on, they lose respect. Plus, those people are likely not performing to their full potential (because the manager is probably not doing the right job with them as well). Finally, the “RIF” usually costs the company more money. There is usually some sort of payout–typically more than an outright termination, so the manager is wasting the company’s money.
If a person isn’t performing, it’s a leader’s job to help the person correct that. If the person can’t correct it, it’s the leader’s job to have the courage and respect to address the issues head on.
Anything else is pure cowardice and poor performance on the part of management.
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