HR Corner

The Delicate Art of Firing

It's never easy, but a history of communicating expectations and exercising respect are key when firing an employee.

By Chelsey Lucas March 31, 2015

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Jordan, in his 40s, has been in sales all of his life and started a new job as an account executive with a fast-growing medical supply company with 60 employees. After creating a lot of new business, he was promoted to manager of the sales team where he has been for two years. But the company’s business model now requires a greater ability to research and work with data, analyze client needs, create strategic reports, and use digital media. Jordan has lagged behind in these areas. Company owners have communicated the priorities, but after six months, sales are not meeting goals, and the owners have decided to let Jordan go. How can this difficult situation be handled in the most professional manner possible?



HOW WE TREAT PEOPLE is important to the culture of the organization, and it’s important [to consider] even in a termination situation. All conversation has to be based on respectful, effective communication, including―and especially―discussions of employment termination.


When ending an employment relationship, it’s always important―to the extent possible―that it’s done in person, in private and that it doesn’t come as a surprise to the employee. This is an important consideration both from the exiting employee’s view as well as from the remaining staff [to maintain the reputation of] a caring, compassionate workforce.

In this scenario, 60 employees is a substantial number, so the firing process should be a formality. The sense of it not being a surprise means that the individual has the knowledge of and the time to process what has not been going well.

Jordan has been on notice for six months that he must meet the new job requirements. The issues should have been communicated to him by putting him on a performance improvement plan. Doing this lets the employee know the priorities and job requirements aren’t being met in an appropriate manner and it gives him the steps to take to change the behaviors and how to seek out assistance.

There is no real consensus on the length of time the employee should be given, but generally 30 to 90 days is sufficient to correct the issues and ensure the work is getting done.

At FCCI, for example, we have a ‘school of excellence,’ [which is] a place for employees to find information on a variety of technology and leadership topics. There are courses online, curriculums and webinars [that offer] tutorials.

You could make it as simple as having a conversation with the employee about the available resources externally or in-house.

For example, the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance and Gulf Coast Community Foundation [host events about] leadership, [and] we partner with State College of Florida for our employees to learn technology. I would encourage a manager to practice equal accountability: It’s not just telling someone [that the work is poor] but providing a supportive environment and offering outlets.

Ultimately, though, the employee in this scenario will be fired because he has already been given opportunities to improve and succeed.

You don’t want to have an accusatory or condescending tone or body language when you’re firing someone despite frustrations you may have with this person. The termination conversation is not when you should be pointing to the areas that didn’t get done. You already should have provided plenty of opportunity for feed- back and information before you  sit down.

Keep the conversation simple. For example, I might say, “Jordan, we’ve been talking over the last several months about this job and areas where you needed to focus. As we have discussed, there have been areas of challenge for you, so we’ve made the decision that today will be the last day of your employment.”

Usually the employees who have been given guidance [but fail to meet the standards] know the job is not getting done, but some want more explanation. First, [exercise] understanding and empathy for this person, [then] help them transition to the state of mind that the decision has been made [and outline] what will happen with their health insurance and belongings.

Other employees may feel emotional about this decision. But I think that’s where the environment of care and compassion comes into play. Shift the focus to the business aspect of the impact of the loss of this employee. It’s never advisable to share the details of an employee’s termination; if you have created the type of environment where your employees trust and respect you, you can ask them to trust the decision has been made for all the right business reasons.

You choose how you want to conduct yourself, so be consistent in your legal and ethical behavior. The values of an organization create the foundation for how [everyone] will be treated. 

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