The 10-Minute Firing Script
While being a shop operator comes with a lot of perks, the job also has its drawbacks.
And firing an employee is right near the top of that list.
As the former owner of Bowditch Collision Center in Newport News, Va., John Shoemaker had to fire his share of employees. And now as business development manager for BASF Refinish North America (he also formerly owned JSE Consulting), he helps shop operators prepare for and execute the emotionally draining task.
The arduous preparation that leads up to the actual firing is one thing: setting expectations, keeping an updated policy manual, developing a consistent discipline policy, etc. They’re items on a checklist, albeit essential details for avoiding any human resources or legal issues.
But the actual execution—the actual act of firing the employee—that’s what truly tests you as a business owner, as a leader, Shoemaker says.
That’s why you should develop a 10-minute firing script, says Charles Sujansky, CEO of business consulting firm KEYGroup. Know the do’s and don’ts and prepare for all the “what if’s” in this uncomfortable situation so you can swiftly terminate an employee with confidence.
Prepare for the Termination
An employee shouldn’t be blindsided when they’re finally let go. Shoemaker says to take basic steps in the human resources department to prepare for a termination.
Write clear job descriptions. The employee should know exactly what is expected of him or her when hired. You should be able to point directly to the job description in the employee handbook the employee signed to show why he or she is not meeting expectations.
Follow a discipline policy. The employee will know if he or she is on verge of getting “strike three.” If it is a performance-based firing, the employee should receive verbal or written warnings beforehand.
Create checks and balances. At least three people should be involved in a termination: you, the employee and a third party, whether it be a supervisor or someone in the HR department. It’s smart to have someone else review your decision and whether it’s fair.
Create the Proper Setting
The time and place of your meeting cannot be overlooked. Create the proper setting with these tips:
Do it on a Monday or Tuesday. Shoemaker say it’s a common misconception to perform the firing on a Friday. Both he and Sujansky agree it’s more beneficial to do it after the weekend.
“Have time to think about it, discuss it and lay out different scenarios. Then make a determination Monday.”
“The weekend should be relaxing,” he adds about the terminated employee. “Give them a week to get their life back in order and apply for a new job.”
Have a third party present. Have a supervisor or someone from the HR department sitting in on the meeting, Shoemaker says. This provides a third-party witness to aid with any legal disputes that could arise later.
Clear the desk. There’s no need for distracting paperwork disrupting the meeting.
“You owe it to this employee to give your full attention,” Sujansky says.
Schedule the meeting. Request that he or she come to a conference room you reserved beforehand, Sujansky suggests.
“Since it is sometimes difficult to leave your office, it is best to pick a neutral site so you can get up to leave once the information has been delivered,” he says.
Terminate the Employee
To keep the meeting under 10 minutes, the conversation should be as short as possible. Sujansky has developed a script that—although shouldn’t be used verbatim—outlines several major points you should cover to make it swift and painless:
“As you know, we’ve met repeatedly with respect to you needing to meet your sales quota. Specifically, we’ve had at least seven coaching sessions previous to this. During the last coaching session, I gave you a warning that your lack of performance would lead to disciplinary actions.
As such, we’ve had three progressive discipline meetings about your lack of performance, and during our most recent meeting on March 3, I gave you a written warning that unless you improved your numbers, this could end in possible termination.
You’re still not meeting your sales quota. Therefore, today’s meeting is for the purpose of me informing you that you are being terminated from your job, effective immediately. I’m aware that we owe you a final paycheck and a commission check, and those will be mailed to you on the next regular payday.
At this point I need your keys to the office, company credit card, and any other company property in your possession. Please take fifteen minutes to quietly retrieve your belongings. Bob here will then escort you to your car.”
“Don’t apologize during a firing. Doing so implies that you may be wrong with your decision.”
—Charles Sujansky, CEO, KEYGroup
Although you may experience an uncomfortable silence initially, Sujansky says to refrain from talking. Once the employee is fired, he or she won’t want to be there, and, ideally, the meeting will end quickly.
Deal with the “What If’s”
Unfortunately, not every termination ends smoothly. Beyond the actual termination speech, Sujansky says you may have to react to certain questions or behaviors:
What if the employee keeps offering rebuttals? If the employee feels the need to vent and defend him or herself, allow for it. Listen to the person’s intent, but don’t vary from your position.
Sujansky suggests saying something along the lines of: “I understand that you attempted to change this behavior. We did have that conversation many times. However, the performance never did change. Therefore, I need to proceed with this action.”
What if the employee threatens to sue for wrongful termination? Don’t argue with legal threats, as that may lead him or her to believe the decision is negotiable.
Sujansky suggests: “You have the right to investigate that option.”
Then, restate the reason for the termination: “We agreed on this date that you would improve your sales. You have not done it. That is the reason for this termination.”
What if the employee gets hostile or violent? If you suspect the employee may get violent, know what security options are available. You may want staff members present outside the meeting room to escort the employee to his or her car.
Avoid Certain Phrases
Sujansky says many business owners get nervous during a termination and utter unfortunate statements that confuse the employee or make it more difficult for you. Here are a few to avoid:
“I’m really sorry to have to do this.” Sujansky says you’re probably firing the person because he or she didn’t pull his or her weight and is hurting the company, so stick to your message.
“Don’t apologize during a firing,” Sujansky says. “Doing so implies that you may be wrong with your decision.”
“You’re very valued here.” If that’s the case, then why fire the person? Sujansky says such mixed messages could lead to a lawsuit.
“If the employee really was adding value to the company, you wouldn’t be firing him or her,” Sujansky says. “Don’t confuse the employee by stating that he or she is valued, yet is still being fired.”
“Don’t try to balance the firing with positive statements,” he adds. “Firing someone is not a positive time. If others hear you tell a terminated employee that he or she did really well, your remaining employees may fear that even though they are doing well at their jobs, they’ll be next.”
“I know how you feel.” Sujansky says this is something you say to make yourself feel better—it doesn’t help the employee at all.
“Even if you’ve been fired in the past, you couldn’t possibly know how this person feels,” he says. “So don’t say it. Period.”
“Let me know how I can help.” Unless you plan on being a solid reference, Sujansky says to not offer help down the road.
“Don’t lead people on when you don’t really mean it,” he says.
Follow Up with Employees and Customers
Unfortunately, Shoemaker and Sujansky say there’s one final step: You’ll need to discuss the termination with employees and possibly your customers, as well.
“Realize that your remaining employees have one key question on their mind: ‘Am I next?’ or ‘Is my job in jeopardy?’” Sujansky says. “Likewise, your customers are concerned with only one thing: ‘Will my needs still be met?’ Your job now is to assure both groups that they have nothing to worry about.”
Depending on the size of your shop, Shoemaker says you can opt to bring everyone together to explain the news, or you can just tell the terminated employee’s immediate co-workers.
If the fired employee worked directly with customers, you need to inform them of the change quickly, Sujansky says.
“Simply let them know that the person they were working with is no longer with you and that another person will be handling their account,” he says. “It’s preferable that you already know which staff member will now be helping the customer. That way you can have everyone on the phone at once and introduce the customer to the new person who will be helping them.”