5 Ways That Leaders Can Gracefully Terminate a Team Member

5 Ways That Leaders Can Gracefully Terminate a Team Member

One of the most difficult tasks that a business leader has to undertake involves terminating a member of the team. Before making this decision, leaders should work closely with the employee and attempt to improve their performance. However, this extra guidance does not always prove effective and, sometimes employees violate cardinal laws of the organization. Even in these cases, the conversation is never easy, and leaders should take the time to prepare for them thoroughly. Prior to having this conversation, it is important that individuals ensure they have the right documentation in place and that they have coordinated everything with human resources. From that point, it is really just a matter of having the conversation and severing ties in a kind and empathetic way. The following are some tips to keep in mind.

1. Keep the conversation short.

Too often, business leaders think that it’s easier to beat around the bush rather than to get to the point. In reality, while this may make it easier for the speaker, the person being terminated will just be confused or anxious the whole time. The best strategy is to bring the person to a private place, offer a warning, and then give the news. A warning is something like, “I have some bad news for you.” Saying this allows the person to brace for the impact rather than to be caught off guard. Once the news is delivered, it is important to provide tangible, transparent reasons why and to do so in the past tense in order to avert any conversation about second chances. Generally, leaders should avoid apologizing in these situations and resist giving into the emotions of the employee. Leaders who are inclined to offer an apology should state that they are sorry the situation has reached this point rather than apologizing for the actual action.


2. Show some compassion.

Leaders should never forget that getting fired is a rather traumatic experience that no one wants to go through in their career. For this reason, it is critical to demonstrate some compassion. If leaders truly believe that the person has talents and abilities that could be useful to another company, it is appropriate to provide a reference or even to make introductions to people you know at other companies. Compassion also applies to how that individual will look in front of coworkers. Often, it is best to have the conversation at the end of the workday so that the person is not obviously packing up their belongings while everyone else is present. Leaders can even offer to walk the person to their desk and help, or to walk them out of the building like it is a normal day. Making this offer will help to avoid unnecessary embarrassment.

3. Stay for questions.

While HR can help out with much of the termination process, business leaders still have an important role to play. Some people would argue that a leader should leave the situation once the news has been delivered, but this is not always the best idea. In addition to staying around to show compassion, leaders may need to answer some important questions about next steps or options that HR cannot handle. Because of this, leaders should spend some time brushing up on practical matters like what happens to unused vacation time and what the severance package will be. Many people will want this information directly from the boss. Of course, even with this preparation, the employee may still ask some difficult questions. When this occurs, it is best to admit to not having thought to look up the details and then deferring to HR.

4. Prepare for the future.

When someone is terminated, this usually creates a gap in the workflow. Leaders should think about how to address this issue before they take action or, alternately, speak with the team afterward about what needs to be done. Taking this step allows leaders to focus more fully on the future and how the company moves forward instead of dwelling on the past. Moreover, doing so prevents future problems due to the missing link. Even with a plan in place, it is important to discuss the situation with the team and outline what will occur moving forward, including a timeline for finding a replacement and how existing team members might be involved in that process.


5. Attend to the team.

After someone gets fired, the team will likely become distressed and worry if their positions are also in danger. To avoid unnecessary anxiety, leaders should address the team shortly after the termination occurs and be very straightforward about what happened without revealing any reasons behind the action. These details are confidential. Leaders should assure their employees that the organization is not systematically eliminating any positions and let them know that they should not fear a similar fate. Of course, leaders should also let employees know that they are always available to listen to concerns and field questions.