I'm actually going to have to terminate someone after many, many rounds of performance improvement plans.

This is more of a personal question than a practical one. Even though they have failed time and again to perform; I STILL feel bad about this and want to find a way to not make it happen.

Is that just me being a high S? Or is this inherent to the management gig?

Curious, and would appreciate any stories/ideas/whatever.

scm2423's picture
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I have only had to let someone go once.  It was difficult.  The only thing that got me through it was that I felt like I had done my best with them and it was their chioce not to make the improvements that were necessary. 

Just a word of caution, be careful about stating that you think they maybe mentally ill.  That could lead to issues around disablity and not making accommidations for them in the workplace.  By all means encourage them to get help from a dr, clergy, coucilor based on the stress that the termination may cause.  Also make it clear to the person what the termination means.  In my situation the employee tried serveral times to come to the office and gather things and use her old workstation while I was not there.  This caused an extreme amount of stress on the employees there. 

While firing someone is painful and not something anyone looks forward to, it can be done with compassion.  Doing it in a caring manner will help you get through it.




MsSunshine's picture

I always think that when I feel bad, it's a good thing.  It means that you were a good manager and made a personal connection to the person who you now have to fire.  It means that I'm making sure that it's not a knee jerk reaction to something.  It means that I've carefully considered whether the problem is me or the person.  It means I've given it my best.  It also probably means that you will be professional and kind during the process of actually doing the firing.  It's like being nervous before a public speaking engagement makes me practice and thus do that job better.

I've never fired anyone but had someone really close when a lay-off happened.  We were literally a week away from him being fired.  I knew the problems it was going to be for him and his family financially.  I prepared a lot for the final lay-off conversation and it went so well I was amazed.

You may be surprised that the person may be relieved when it happens.  My person was and I've been told that is common.  They are often really unhappy and it's a relief to finally say it's time to stop.  My person called me a few weeks later and said he hadn't realized how stressed he was until it was all over.  Sometimes things are just a bad fit.

jhack's picture

I've done it, and I've had to lay people off.  It's always hard.  If it ever gets easy, you need to find a different line of work.

You're taking away someone's livelihood.  You're admitting, implicitly, that you failed somehow.  You're severing a relationship.  

Yet in the end, you know you're doing the right thing.  (<em>I</em> know you're doing the right thing, bug_girl.)  Letting them flounder, allowing them to be in the wrong job, putting the other folks on your team in a bad situation, or worse....these things cannot hold.  And it takes a strong, smart person to do the right thing sometimes, especially when the right thing is a hard thing to do.   


John Hack

ken_wills's picture

Based on your characterization of "many, many rounds of perfromance improvement plans" there's probably room for reflection and improvement the next time you face this situation (and yes, there WILL be a next time...).

Probably the most common error I've seen (and made!) is giving somebody too many chances to improve.  It's stressful on them, on you, on coworkers and on the organization.

You're right to feel bad about it bug_girl, but I promise the next thing you'll feel: relief!  and then a little pride in doing what had to be done.

bug_girl's picture

Thanks everyone! It's going to be a tough one, since police will be involved for safety reasons (re. Mr. Happy's comments....)

There is simply no way that there won't be a huge drama, and in the middle of all this I *still* wonder "Did I do the right thing?"

Your comments are really helpful.


twinsen's picture
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I went through one earlier this year.  Jhack and a bunch of others helped a lot and to be honest, after I did it, I realized this person was holding the team back and preventing us from achieving results.  There is a strange sense of relief that the 3 months I spent trying to find out what this person knew (or rather what they didn't know!) and delegating to a new hire and/or existing staff was a worthwhile exercise.  The team came out stronger for it.

If managers felt nothing after terminating someone, then that'd be the real tragedy.

P.S. I'm a high D and high C.  People think I have about as much emotion and empathy as Arnold does in the Terminator but I still had sleepless nights.

spark's picture

I have two experiences.  In the first case it was an outright termination.  In the second example, I had an employee on a 2-year contract that was up for renewal, she could have extended, with my endorsement of course.  I let her know months in advance that despite our mutual efforts to find a good fit for her, I felt it would be best if she deliberately took steps to ensure that she found herself a new position befor the contract ran out.  I helped her with her resume and provided outplacement assistance where I could.  (I counted the days...there's a lesson there too.)

I won't bore you with the drama invovled in both of these cases, including the involvement of security, but I will say that in both cases, the other team members were appreciative that deliberate steps were taken  to resolve bad situations.  I agree with Ken, there is a very good chance that you will feel some sense of pride after the fact.  I'm not perfect, and perhaps there were things that I could have done earlier that might have produced differnt outcomes in my situations.  All I know now is that the two situations presented themselves and based on the information that I had at the time, despite my earlier efforts, there was really only one proper course of action.

You are a member of the ManagerTools team.  I've read your blog posts enough to know that you are not taking this lightly.  You will do the right thing and everyone in will be better for it.  Now, what are you going to do with you new found time and energy?


ecineko's picture


Quite often we find that there are certain who have unique charm, intellectually gifted to make an impact, very witty and logical thinking. I am wondering if these skills can be learnt and if yes, please provide resources ( podcast, books, etc..) THANKS A LOT in advance

namillercpa's picture
Training Badge

I have had to terminate people for cause and it is rarely easy.  When I have had to do it, I realized that I was not being fair to the rest of my team by keeping on someone who was not contributing to the team effort. It is never easy. But part of me feels that by keeping that person on, you may be holding them back from finding truly fulfilling work someplace else.  Maybe that's just rationalization but I would like to think it's true. And, if you haven't read any of Dick Grote's writing on performance management, I would highly recommend.  Try

pmoriarty's picture
Training Badge

Be brief, be direct and don't get drawn into negotiating or answering questions.  Stick to your script.

Most of all, REHEARSE what you are going to say.  It's still going to be difficult.  You'll get through it.  It won't be fun.

Good luck and let us know how it works out.

RichRuh's picture
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Great advice above.  Just wanted to chime in with another "good luck!"


scm2423's picture
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I thought I was the only one that felt a little bit of pride after terminating someone.  I was just happy that I made it through the day.  I am someone who usually avoids conflict so I was dreading the day.  It was decided at a meeting Saturday morning, and we had to wait until Monday to deliver the news.  Sunday seemed to last forver.

But getting through it and doing it with respect and compassion was a big step in my management career.

humble_me's picture
Licensee Badge

Great advice from pmoriarty!  Once you've decided to terminate someone, it should be a brief meeting with the person.  It doesn't benefit either party to drag the meeting on due to debate.

I would also suggest talking to someone in HR (if you have an HR department) to understand what's available to the employee afterward (i.e. benefit extensions like COBRA in the US, placement services, government programs, etc.) or do your own research.  I would also consider how much help you want to be after wards like being a reference or writing a job reference in case you're asked.  That way you don't commit to something in the heat of it that you may later regret.

Above all treat them with respect so you feel comfortable looking them in the eye if you see them later.  The fact you are so concerned lends me to believe you already knew that. 

Good luck!

bug_girl's picture

You have no idea how much I wish I COULD say more about this issue....

I'll just tell you that when I found myself planning to print a living will and leave it on my desk before the meeting.....I stopped worrying about whether I was doing the right thing.


jhbchina's picture

BG -

Humble Me made a comment related to HR that made me think of something. Did HR not attend the meeting with you for YOUR support! Did you ask them? If it is not to late, (though based on your feelings on this I hope it is) ask them to attend the meeting. Many times HR does support the manager in the transaction, just like when they hire.

We are here for you BG



bug_girl's picture

dancing around details as best I can...

You might remember that our piece of the state hired someone out of HR to be our HR advisor. So, as a manager I have access to someone who once was high up in the HR of our organization....but who exists to advise me on how to work with HR!

It is an awesome arrangement, since she is an excellent coach, but also is NOT HR, and can advise both managers and employees impartially.  She answers directly only to folks many levels above me, so serves kind of like a counselor to mediate with both sides.

She's been working with me for the last 2 years (yes, it takes that long to fire someone here). It was her call to have the police on hand when we had our meeting, and I'm really glad I listened to her.


About all I think I can safely say is that I got a VERY close look at one of these, and I hope I never, never, never have to do something like this again.


I will miss the expertise of my former employee very much; she had incredible depth of knowledge.

I know I did the right thing now.