By now, you’ve surely read the news that Steve Bannon, the ever-controversial White House Chief Strategist was let go after just 7 months in office. He joins Anthony Scaramucci who was fired (or removed from office) after a mere 10 days on the job as White House Communications Director. The ‘Mooch’, as he liked to be referred to, was quick to show his true colours within a few short days on the job with inappropriate comments and bombastic tirades.
While the White House may have substantially different hiring/firing practices than many businesses, these departures underscore why ANY company should act fast when an employee–particularly those who hold a position of trust - damage the reputation of a business, or presents them with ‘cause’ to terminate.
But did you know, you can actually fire anyone, anytime–with or without cause?
Yes, let that sink in for a moment…
You can fire anyone. Yes, even in Canada! BUT don’t get ahead of yourself…there can be consequences and ramifications for doing so, depending on what led to the decision and how well you managed it.
If you fail to treat the employee appropriately, you could face all sorts of trouble and/or additional expense. For instance:
I’ve worked with many leaders in different industries (both big and small) to plan terminations, and in most cases they were extremely conflicted about making the final call. Let’s face it; this is not an easy thing to do. You wonder if you have enough information to back yourself up, you question if you’ve ever said or done anything inappropriate that could later ‘bite you in the butt’ and you worry about what to say on that dreaded day–the day you actually let them go.
Whether it is a directive from the top of corporate to downsize your team or it is a lingering performance or behaviour issue, letting someone go is one of the hardest actions you will ever have to take as a manager. And so it should be. I always say if you don’t feel a little sick inside when affecting the life of someone else then you really shouldn’t be a people manager.
That said, there are times where you know very well that somebody needs to go – and as aggravating or grueling as it may seem to be, there are some very important things you should consider before you ‘pull the trigger’. Lets call it CYOA! (cover-your-own-ass)
So how do you CYOA?
Long before you have that tough conversation, it’s important to consider if you’ve covered yourself properly. Have you:
1. Been fair?
Do you have favourites on your team, or are there people who you don’t really like? If I spoke to others on the team, would they tell me they’ve observed a lack of fairness with this person? How did you arrive at a decision for this person to leave and how fair did you apply these selection criteria across the team? Have you let others with the same performance level or behavioural issues remain on the team or did you provide all of them with the same type of feedback and given similar chances to improve but this one individual hasn’t measured up? If I can find out you were not fair in treating this employee, you can bet the court can too!
2. Been consistent?
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard how terrible an employee’s performance is, only to read their previous reviews–all of which were glowing. Do not assume an employee just ‘knows’ when they are not performing because you think you’ve told them. It is your responsibility as the manager to ensure the issues have been clearly expressed, both verbally and in writing with a clear-cut plan to improve. This plan becomes your supporting ‘back-me-up’ information. At the very least, be sure to document stern conversations by sending a follow up email after your meetings to reinforce what you’ve spoken about and include the steps required to improve. Now, I have a test for you… pull out all of your notes/emails or reviews to this person over the past year, and re-read them as though you’re the lawyer defending this case. Does your evidence support the termination? Have you been consistent with your feedback and directions; will this information reinforce your case? Or is it wishy-washy and non-specific? When you say one thing verbally, but record it differently in performance reviews and/or emails, the written information will be taken as the truth every. single. time!
3. Provided ample opportunity to improve?
Everyone deserves to be given a chance to improve–yes, everyone! I have heard many leaders tell me somebody ‘just has to go’, but when asked, it becomes apparent no one gave the employee clear feedback with an opportunity to improve within a realistic time period. If challenged legally, you’ll have to show the proof that you gave the person helpful, specific feedback on what needed to change, and how to improve--within a reasonable timeframe. So ask yourself–did you give them adequate feedback? Did you provide clear actions they need to take within realistic time period – did you create a performance improvement plan? If not, now’s the time to do it!
4. Provided training or progressive discipline?
If the issue is a ‘skill gap’ you need to show that you’ve provided the employee with adequate training to acquire the right skill level.
However, if it is a behavioural/attitudinal issue, the only way to help someone change is to provide him or her with progressive discipline in a formalized way – some may call it performance coaching or corrective action. When I say formalized, I mean well-documented (notice a theme emerging?) keeping track of meeting dates, a summary of each circumstance/situation, and a record of feedback (provided to the employee) so that there’s a trail of the intensifying consequences. In formalized progressive discipline you use formal warnings, beginning with simple verbal warning to correct the behaviour, escalating the consequences according to your company discipline policy (if you don’t have one, you should create one… pronto).
‘Three strikes you’re out’ may not be necessary or on the other hand, it may not be sufficient; it really depends on the seriousness of the wrongdoing, the situation, the history of the individual and whether there were any justifying circumstances or not. Most progressive discipline practices use these culminating stages: verbal warning, formal letter of warning, suspension and then termination. It is really important you follow through with an action each and every time they act inappropriately. And again, you have to conduct yourself the same way with all employees.
Tip: The test I use to know the difference between a skill gap or a behavioural issue is to ask, “If you paid them a million dollars, could they do this correctly?” If the answer is no, then it is likely a skill gap and training is required. If the answer is yes, then chances are you have a behavioural/attitudinal issue on your hands.
5. Treated them with respect?
Of course, you likely know this is important while they work for you to treat them with respect, but did you know it’s equally as important after they no longer work with you? If after someone leaves an organization they can prove you were talking disrespectfully about them or their performance to someone who had no right to know, the organization may face defamation claims in addition to wrongful dismissal suit. Limit discussing negative qualities about any colleagues or team members at any time–the less said, the better! Only management/HR of the employee should be involved with these discussions. This kind of gossip can not only cause legal issues, but also trust issues with other team members, as they begin to wonder if you talk about them in the same way behind their back.
The bottom line is this–you can avoid most wrongful dismissal lawsuits and/or Human Rights violations when:
It may seem onerous to have to complete performance improvement plans, provide verbal and written warnings, have performance/behaviour coaching sessions, keep desk notes and provide follow up emails, but these are your best tools to help you CYOA. It’s absolutely critical that you be in control the information that could be used against you.
When you’re dealing with an employee with difficult behaviour or you’re at the end of your rope and are about to let someone go, book me for a consultation. I have tips and tools to help you get organized and I have 25+ years experience helping leaders plan and prepare for the ‘dreaded meeting’–including their follow up discussions with the rest of the team.
And to help make sure you properly CYOA, I will challenge you with tough questions to help you move forward. After all, wouldn’t you rather it be me asking as opposed to the courts?
Elaine Adamson is a leadership consultant with Dots Leadership Solutions Inc. A natural dot connector. Passionate about coaching team effectiveness and leadership development she shares over 25+ years of real-life tips and tricks that really work!
Elaine believes you can discover and leverage strengths to forge a strong team dynamic despite business challenges or organizational change.