A local team here in the Albany area recently received the junior varsity national rowing championship. Great, right? The team was flying high as the coach led the team in the win. Everything changed when the coach received a message: You’re done. Fired. The rowing coach was canned after winning the championship. He was told via text message: Turn in your keys and credit card. The board of directors made the decision to fire the championship coach. Did the coach commit gross negligence at all time? No.
No matter the reason, right or wrong, leadership must treat termination with dignity.
In the case of the rowing coach, look at how it was done: via text message. That is an impersonal and a poor legal way of notifying someone. Actually, the message was ambiguous: turn in your credit card and keys. Are new keys and cards being issued? Is there a problem with the keys or cards? The rowing coach was not issued a letter, given a phone call, or even a visit from the team leadership. This type of behavior in an organization produces anxiety, criticism, doubt, and conveys an image of secrecy. In addition, it alienates constituents because there is a lack of clarity, accountability, and communication.
Leaders need to bring dignity to a situation in which an employee needs to be let go.
Consult legal counsel before you take any action in order to ensure the organization or church is not violating and local, state, or federal laws. Lawyers can help frame the language and terms of the termination. “We’ve heard rumors of [fill in the blank].” No judge is going to agree with an employee termination because of rumors.
Give the employee a chance to improve. To protect the organization and employee, make clear, realistic goals to improve performance on a timeline. This allows the employer to give a clear reason why the employee was let go or helps the person to do better work.
A face-to-face meeting is required to explain in simple plan language that the employee is being let go, a brief reason why, and instructions for the exiting process. Have at least one other person present in order to verify any details which may need to be shared later.
Everything needs to be documented to protect the employer and employee. The ability to bring dignity to a termination to reduce tension will help the employee and will help the organization or church to depart well.
Tell the truth to people. People will naturally ask, “What happened to Jim?” In a polite and honest way, tell the person that the employee was let go, and you cannot discuss particulars. Commit to listening and not sharing all the dirty details. If gross negligence was committed, address it with a letter when the termination occurs and prepare leaders to respond in a healthy way.
Thank the employee for his or her service. Be professional, but not chummy, with the employee. This is not a happy day for the employee. Consider a financial severance as a way to thank the employee or to lessen the blow.
Be prepared for emotions that may spring up. People are not robots. Letting an employee go will weigh heavy on them because it is their source of income. Tears, angry words, or silence are some ways people handle bad news. Staying calm and collected will reduce tensions.
Remember, you manage problems, not people. You lead people. That is the difference between management and leadership. Treating people as problems is cold and inhumane. Leaders treat people with dignity even when they have the reluctant duty to fire someone.