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Dear David: Knowing when it’s time to let an employee go

September 17/24, 2018: Volume 34, Issue 7

By David Romano

Dear David: 

I have a general manager who has been with me for more than 10 years. He started as a sales associate but for the last five years has been my manager. When I first made him manager he was doing great, but something has been off the last couple of years. I met with him several times to find out what’s going on and he keeps telling me everything is alright. His performance and attitude are getting worse. I’d hate to let him go, but I don’t know what else I can do.

Dear Perplexed Owner,

First step is immediate action. Letting this go on for a couple of years not only affects you but your entire staff and customers. Remember, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing every day and expecting a different result. Your dilemma leaves you with two options: turnaround his performance or terminate his employment. Doing nothing is not an option.

Turnaround
You have invested both time and substantial resources in this individual, so modifying his behavior should be your first choice. A casual conversation won’t cut it. You need to be sure that you set expectations, have defined timelines, check progress and focus on change.

Setting expectations. Go over his job description and cover areas of concern. Establish sales goals, upcoming initiatives and acceptable behavior.

Defined timeline. He needs to understand when you would like to see improvement. Stating you’re not pleased and he needs to “step up or get out” is counterproductive. Tell him he has 30/60/90 days to show progress or employment will be terminated.

Milestones and feedback. It’s important that you don’t wait until the end of the timeline to provide feedback. Meet with him regularly to review progress and provide clear direction and required support.

Keep it positive. Don’t focus on what was done wrong, but what could be done better. You are just as much (if not more so) to blame, so finger-pointing is ineffective.

Termination
Termination of employment is sensitive and carries potential legal liabilities. It’s important that you are prepared for the separation and that the discussion is to the point so he isn’t surprised.

Document everything. When performance is below expectations, or when company policies have been violated, it must be recorded. There may be a chance of a positive turnaround once he realizes you’re not going to accept his performance. The write-ups will also reduce your exposure to potential legal issues.

No surprises. When he is terminated, it should come as no surprise. If you follow the strategy of documentation, he may give notice before you have time to terminate. It’s likely that he will begin a search for a new job once you complete the first write-up.

To the point. Don’t beat around the bush. Your first sentence should look something like this: “As of today, your employment is terminated” or “I am letting you go today.” If he chooses to leave immediately, don’t belabor the point. If he needs further explanation, provide precise reasons.

Preparation. Prior to the termination meeting, be prepared for his exit. Make a list of what you need from him before he leaves the building, because once he leaves he might not be willing to communicate or cooperate.

David Romano, formerly the founder of Romano Consulting Group as well as Benchmarkinc Recruiting, is currently the director of Dallas-based Romano Group. You can contact David at david@romanogroup.com.