5 things a boss must do before firing someone

Consoling your friend when she gets laid off gets awkward if you're the one who gave her the pink slip iStockphoto

(MoneyWatch) As a manager, one of the most difficult things you must do is fire a bad employee. Once you've made the decision there are five things you need to do before sitting down with the employee.

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See if there is a better fit elsewhere within the company. An employee that just does not work well in your department is not necessarily a bad employee. It just may be a mismatch. So before you fire someone for poor performance, look around and see if there is a spot where this person would be a great fit. Please note, this is not an instruction to dump your bad employee on some poor unsuspecting manager, but an instruction to look and see if there truly is something that would be a better fit. Be honest with your peers about the problems you've had and where you see this person's strengths.

Approve the termination all the way up. I know that you are the boss and what you say goes, but unless you own the company, you need to get formal approval from those above you. How far up the ladder depends on how big your company is and where you are on that ladder, but this always includes your boss. Why? Because people object to being fired and as part of their objection they are likely to complain. And sometimes your boss is an idiot who will demand that you reinstate the person. And you know what is worse than having a bad employee in your department? Having that bad employee still working because your boss overrode your decision. Get approvals and agreement before you terminate.

Get consensus sideways. Frequently, your employees have contact with other departments. These department heads don't manage your staff, but they do depend on them to get work done. (For instance, your team may provide the sales figures that operations uses to do their product forecasting.) When you fire someone from your staff, you are directly affecting other groups. Explain what is going on and how you are going to meet this department's needs while you are searching for a replacement.

Consider how this is going to impact your whole team. Depending on the person's problems, your other staff may or may not see this coming. For instance, if the reason for termination is that your employee is frequently late, takes long lunches, and says rude things in staff meetings, your staff will breathe a sigh of relief when this slacker is finally gone. But, if he is making errors that only you see, is not driving sales as expected, or is an extremely smooth-talking slacker, they may be horrified that he's gone. This doesn't mean you should change your mind, it just means you need to take your remaining staff's reaction into consideration. Remember, their work load will increase when you fire this person. Think through what you will tell them, and how you will divide the work, and be prepared for fall out.

Dot all your i's and cross all your t's. The need to terminate may seem so incredibly clear to you that there is no reason not to go ahead and terminate today. However, your company probably has procedures in place. These are not set up to annoy you or thwart you. They are set up to protect the company. If the policy is to place someone on a 30 (or 60 or 90) day performance improvement plan, do so. (Remember that if the person meets the conditions of the plan, you won't be firing him.) Check and double check with HR to make sure you're following internal procedures and that all employees are treated similarly. (If your employee has done X wrong but last year a different employee also did X wrong but was not terminated, you may be exposing the company to lawsuits by terminating.) HR needs to sign off as well. It's their job to protect the company.

Doing these things before you terminate someone help ensure that things go smoothly. They will, of course, still be painful, but looking for potential problems in advance will help you and your remaining staff.

For further reading:
How to get your boss fired
Managers: Stop the shuffling and just fire the person
My company fires pregnant women. Is this legal?

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