One thing leaders rarely talk about is letting people go because they feel uncomfortable doing it. And talking about it might even be harder as there is a lot of shame involved. We want to appear as a great leader and that is not associated with having to let people go.

I am writing this to break the taboo around letting people go and how to do this in the best way. But also to support other leaders to not screw up the conversation like I did the first time.

I’ve had to let go of a few people over the years. First in startups, and later in corporates. And I hated every single time I had to do it.

I felt like I personally failed them.

Knowing how it would impact the lives of them and their families made these conversations even harder. I was scared to have to fire someone and it showed during the dismissal conversation.

I screwed up the first time. 💩 Royally.

I covered up what really needed to be said. I looked for excuses and didn’t share any real feedback. I talked too much without listening. While that is not great, let’s be real to ourselves that these are tough conversations and warrant some preparation.

Sometimes we hold back on feedback until it’s too late. Provide feedback (early on) and make sure they know it is crucial for their success. So it does not come as a surprise to them later on.

Here is how to do this better. After you have taken the decision, follow these steps during the termination meeting:

  1. Share the decision in a 1:1 conversation and then shut up
  2. Let emotions, questions, etc. arise. Give the other person space to voice whatever is coming up. If nothing comes up, check in on how this is landing for them.
  3. Only after the first emotions are out, share the reasons behind it. Feel free to prepare in detail the reasons, behaviors, and feedback shared earlier on. Be honest, candid, and kind. It will help them in their next professional step.
  4. Clearly lay out what comes next, formalities, etc. so they know what to do.
  5. Share what support is still available from you or the company.

Most importantly, make sure to check in with the remaining team members. How are they feeling about this? Do they understand the decision? Are they worried about their own position?

I know this is not a pleasant topic. Having a blueprint on what to do or not to do helps you not to stuff up royally like I did. Especially since it’s something we rarely talk about with others.

These are some FAQs my clients often come to me with:

Q: What specific steps should leaders take when preparing for difficult termination discussions?

When preparing for difficult termination discussions, leaders should focus on establishing a clear plan of action that includes outlining the reasons for the decision, anticipating potential reactions from the employee, and ensuring that all necessary logistical details are in place. It is essential to approach the conversation with empathy and understanding while also maintaining professionalism and respect throughout the process.

Q: How can leaders address the emotional aspects of firing an employee while maintaining professionalism and respect throughout the process?

Addressing the emotional aspects of firing an employee requires leaders to acknowledge and validate the feelings of both parties involved. By creating a safe space for open communication and expressing empathy towards the impacted individual, leaders can navigate the emotional complexities of the situation while upholding a sense of dignity and compassion.

Q: What are effective ways to deliver constructive criticism and honest feedback during the termination process?

Delivering constructive criticism and honest feedback during the termination process involves striking a delicate balance between being direct and considerate. Leaders should aim to provide specific examples of performance issues or behavioral concerns, offer guidance on areas for improvement, and emphasize the value of feedback as a tool for growth and development. By approaching feedback with honesty, transparency, and a focus on constructive solutions, leaders can help facilitate a more productive and respectful termination process.

Reach out to me if you would like some more support on how to manage your team. Let’s make leading teams fun again!

Miguel Baumann coaching blog
Hi, I am Miguel

I support leaders in tech to shine with confidence and take charge of their careers.

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