One challenge of being a supervisor is having to discuss performance shortcomings with employees. In some cases, you may need to coach someone out of the job. Please understand that the information here does not relate to those cases in which there is an egregious infraction that demands an immediate termination, such as theft, violence, and other workplace transgressions.
EXHAUST ALL REASONABLE OPTIONS FIRST – Terminating an employee is an emotionally taxing process for everyone. Additionally, it can be a costly process to recruit, hire, and train a new employee, so make sure that this is the right decision. There should be prior conversations related to performance and what steps need to be taken by the employee to improve their performance and remain employed. This should include a formal written plan that you both sign. It must contain goals that are obtainable and not something that ensures failure so you can simply get rid of them. Furthermore, you cannot “hope and pray” that the employee is going to make things easy for you and walk away from the job without any type of discussion on your part. You need to have supervisory courage. This is the most appropriate time to coach them out of the job if you are getting the sense that the employee has given up or is not a good fit for the position.
An example opening for the conversation:
“I have noticed that you are continuing to have a challenging time here, and I wanted to talk to you about this. We have discussed your performance before, and I wanted to see where you stand with things and if you were considering resigning?”
If the employee states that they have not considered resigning, now is the time to offer the option to resign:
“If you want to remain, there will be a performance improvement plan that you will have to follow in order to be successful. However, if you do not want to do that and would rather resign, I would respect your decision to do so. Please understand that this job isn’t always for everyone, and that is okay.”
In many cases, the employee will not simply walk away, particularly when they depend on the position for monetary reasons, which we can all appreciate. You can always give the employee a short amount of time to consider your offer to resign and come back with a definitive answer.
FOCUS ON PERFORMANCE, NOT PERSONALITY – Talking about personality traits can ultimately lead to potential litigation related to discrimination so steer clear of this. Focus on the desired performance and what it is going to take to succeed in the role. You must be able to translate what is problematic and how it needs to be rectified. For example, if you have an employee that is typically abrasive with those they are supposed to be helping, utilize complaints received and other evidence, preferably job outcomes data, which will demonstrate that they are not meeting the goals set for the position.
OFFER A WAY OUT – Terminating someone without having previously spoken about their performance is generally considered a poor management practice. People do not know how to correct their performance if they are not aware that there is a problem. However, if there has been previous and progressive discussions without improved performance, it is appropriate to offer them the ability to resign. People will be less adversarial if they have been treated with civility and given an opportunity to walk away from a position with grace rather than simply terminated and embarrassed among colleagues.
HAVE DOCUMENTATION – In short, document everything! All performance conversations as well as verbal and written reprimands should be documented and kept on file. You can always refer back to these when attempting to coach an employee out of the job because this sets the potential consequence that they could be terminated. Additionally, documentation is crucial to have if a terminated employee challenges your decision.
BE CLEAR ABOUT FOLLOW-UP ISSUES IF THEY DO RESIGN – Request a written resignation from the employee to be due shortly after your conversation with them. Explain to them what to expect in regards to payroll, benefits, and the logistics behind resigning (i.e., turning in keys, manuals, paperwork completion, etc.) You can also share how you and / or human resources will handle potential reference checks in the future and what you can share. In many cases, employers will only share the dates of employment along with the rate of pay.
ALWAYS DISCUSS WITH YOUR SUPERVISOR & HR DEPARTMENT – You will always want to share your discussions with an under-performing employee with your supervisor and human resources department. When in doubt, ask for assistance. You may want your supervisor to be there with you if you are planning on coaching someone out of their job.
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