BLUF - I fired an employee today in a situation where we didn't get to steps 5 and 6 of the final stage coaching model, but where step 5 basically took place with my boss while I was out of the office. I feel feel like a failure and feel terrible that it was likely a surprise to her, which it never should be. (More details on the multiple months of coaching below). My key question for you is how to answer questions from other team members about her departure. I sent out an email at the end of the day that she no longer works at the Company. If I get direct questions about whether she was fired or quit, is it sufficient to say "I wouldn't share your personal employent information with whoever asked and don't think it's appropriate to discuss hers."? We have a lot of new team members (new positions due to supporting previous and future growth of the firm overall), and prior to this there had been only one retirement in the department in 3 years and one other departure prior to that, where the person decided to not work for a few years. I don't want other employees to feel like their jobs are unsafe. I also am usually pretty open and honest in most topics.
Background: I reorganized my team in March to support growth of the company and career objectives of existing employees. One of those was the accounting manager when I started as the head of accounting, but informed me on my first day that she didn't want to manage people. She was an active participant in designing the structure of the new team and the job responsibilities of her new role.
Performance issue: However, she misrepresented her skills and knowledge from her former position (pre-me starting) and she was not effective in her new role. When offered a learning plan, a gap assessment and a path to learn her new role, she did not act on any of it unless asked to do x y z by next Tuesday and then it would only be half done. Multiple conversations on that generally end either to sobbing or excuses and multiple requests for a commitment from her to do x y z did not make a dent. Part of that coaching including very direct feedback that her behavior towards the employee who moved into her old position was not acceptable. There had been months of coaching before I directly asked if she was sure this was the right role for her - she didn't seem happy. I discussed with HR and my boss the possibility of an alternate position and she was looking forward to that idea. She had been with the company for 7 years and had a mixture of really stellar work and work that did not go well at all. She generally was open to and acted on feedback until the person was hired into her old role and she learned (by looking at data she shouldn't have looked at) that the new employee made more money than she did. We never got to the point where we were talking "if you don't do x y x we may be talking about termination".
Last 3 weeks: I went to a work leadership training, then vacation for a week and then had surgery and was out in medical leave for a week. When I returned, she had done a very poor job on a project that was assigned and discussed in detail before I left - my boss gave her feedback and followed up with that feedback in writing. She responded by saying 1) it wasn't her fault 2) there wasn't a procedure to follow and 3) she didn't know what she was supposed to do. Basically, completely disclaiming any responsibility for the work she produced. Then HR called my boss and said they came across the employee hired into this employees old role crying because the training that had been delivered to her by the poorly performing employee was so condescending and abrupt. The combination of those factors so angered my boss that when I returned to the office, we had a meeting with HR and he felt very strongly that no alternate position would work and she needed to go. I talked to my other direct reports yesterday about how things were going with the reorg and asked explicitly about several employees, and all universally (and reluctantly) had varying versions saying that she was being very toxic to the team. None of them had discussed this with me previously, so I was unaware. Either way, I fired her today, but feel terrible that we never got to steps 5 and 6 of the final stage coaching model and that the termination probably came as a surprise.