Spill the Truth: How to Let Someone Go

Spill the Truth: How to Let Someone Go

Jill writes, “I was presenting to a group of clients and my boss had a note delivered to me that said, ‘meet me in conference room A and bring all your things’. When I arrived he told me he was letting me go.  It’s been about six months since that happened. I believe my boss handled the situation poorly, and I would love to know what is the best way to let someone go?”

Well Jill, all professionals at some point in their career will be put to the “someone’s gotta-go test”. Sadly, many choke. Fueled by fear, bosses will stammer, stutter and blunder through any announcement that negatively impacts people. If they don’t hide behind political jargon, they’re likely to sneak out the backdoor after leaving a post-it note on your cube wall.

Those who do it right…will spill the truth. They’ll be bold, they’ll be in-person and they’ll be direct.

It takes courage to deliver bad news and the best leaders are bold. It’s often too late by the time a bad-news delivery needs to be made, but if possible boldness should start well before the crisis.

Here’s the message that leaders need to deliver in the best times…it’s objective and it’s real. “We make decisions for the good of the company and the good of employees. Anytime we have to make business decisions for the good of the company that negatively impact employees, it’s never easy.  What this says is…we’re looking out for you, but we have to look out for the company too. Employees, who understand this during the good times, will understand it better during bad times.

Both sides of the employment equation are as equally free to part ways as they are to come together, but we often forget that once the honeymoon phase is over.  If business decreases, all bets are off. Job loss can occur…sometimes the reason is justifiable and sometimes it isn’t. In either case…leaders must deliver the news in-person. Because Jill, the rest of your team…the people who are staying…they’re watching. And don’t be fooled that you can keep something like this behind the boardroom door.

In-person delivery affords the most integrity to the person leaving and helps solidify your positive treatment of any employee. If you can’t be in-person, the news must be delivered on a live call.

Be direct…For example, say, “I have some difficult news to share with you. Effective today, your position with us is being eliminated.” After that you can explain the reason why, although your recipient has probably tuned you out, but do your best. You could say, “For the past six months, we have been evaluating our financial performance, and we’ve determined that in order to remain profitable, we must make our business structure as cost effective as possible. Unfortunately, we have had to make the difficult decision to reduce headcount by 5%.”

Offer empathy…”I know this is difficult news to hear, but I want you to know that we are here to assist you through the transition.”

Let him or her know your expectations for the remainder of the day/week. For example, “You will not be expected to finish any projects or even be required to finish out the day”.

And for the love of God people, stop with the boxes. “I want to help you retrieve any personal items at your desk, so let’s talk about what would work best for you. You can certainly pack now and take your things with you OR you can schedule a time sometime this week to return and pack. Which would you prefer?”

If asked “why me?” or “did I do something wrong?”

The best response to these kinds of responses is to listen. If you feel that you must respond, use silence fillers like “I understand your concerns”, “I know this is difficult”, or better yet, say “It is never easy when business decisions result in job elimination”. Take out the personal and make it clear this is business.

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