The Right Way to Say Goodbye to a Bad Employee - The 7-Power Contractor

The Right Way to Say Goodbye to a Bad Employee

Is firing people tough to do? You bet!

To help, I’m going to share advice that I learned along the way from working at my own plumbing, heating, cooling and now electrical business. It’s also what I’ve been sharing for over 17 years now working with my 1-to-1 clients, in my book, my seminars and in my workshops.

THAT SAID… Disclaimer, I’m not a labor lawyer nor do I play one on TV.

You are well served to have a great Human Resources company to reach out to or a Labor Lawyer to help you navigate these turbulent waters. Things are different in different states and even among local governments so you don’t want to wing it.

So, why pay attention to what I’m going to share? The reason is I’m sharing my real world experience with you so you’re better educated on what to potentially do next.

Years ago, when I first entered the family business as the last brother in to what was then a 3rdgeneration business (now, it’s a 4thgeneration business), my dad said to me, “You can no longer hire anyone until you prove you can fire someone the right way. Face it. You like hiring people. And who doesn’t? But you need to do both.”

Well, I didn’t like the message, but the message was received. What I realized is I was (and still am) an empathetic person and I see that as my strength (at least I see it that way). It just means I’m able to put myself in the other person’s shoes and see things from their perspective and not just my own.

Our company was and still is a NYC Union Shop. This was good and bad when it came to employee relations. The good news is there was a formal process for disciplining and terminating employment. The bad news was we were not always as diligent about following the steps as we should have been. To be fair, the steps were not all that black and white. There was plenty of gray.

What I realized was when I was in the firing process with a bad employee, they were genuinely surprised. And they wanted to vent their frustrations, but I wanted the torture to end so I cut them off. First of all, I was lucky I didn’t get shot. I’m embarrassed now to think back on it.

Yes, I wasn’t born enlightened!

Fortunately, I got a lot smarter and more proactive about the process of “The Right Way to Say Goodbye to a Bad Employee.” And the biggest leap forward on this was formalizing the Steps of Discipline.

Before we had this in place, we’d be quiet when they messed up, then we’d be quiet when they messed up again and then one day we had enough and lowered the boom but there was nothing in their personnel file. Bad way to operate!

We finally made it clear to our employees:

  • Step 1: An informal meeting and a note in the file
  • Step 2: A formal write up that got signed off on
  • Step 3: A formal suspension
  • Step 4: Termination of employment

We then went from calling it Steps of Discipline to Steps of Corrective Action. We realized that we were hoping they’d get back onboard with us so the new name was a better description of positive goals.

This was much better. There were less surprised employees when the hammer dropped. But we knew we still needed to do better. Finally, we admitted to the team that we were indeed judging them but it was based solely on our opinion and not on things in writing that were objective. That’s when we created the Operating Manuals for all the positions at our company… not just Techs. This was a great help in determining if they were a Bad Employee or just a Bad Fit for our company.

One day my shop steward (the person who is a union employee that works in the field but also is there to protect other union members when these types of issues come up) walked in to my office and said the following to me, “The way I see it, we don’t fire anyone anymore. They just choose not to work here anymore. I say that because we give them four chances and we’ve told them how we’re judging them and we offer them ongoing training to help them get better.”

How good is that?

Okay, one more thing. Here’s why you have to say goodbye to bad employees. Your “A” and “B” players hate working with your “C” and “D” players that you are all too willing to tolerate their bad behavior and inadequacies.

Building the right culture, which is a winning culture, requires you do the hard things and one of those hard things is saying goodbye to bad employees.

Still on the fence about an employee who hasn’t done anything really wrong but they’re not filling their role at the company based on the requirements written out for their box on the org chart?

You can sit them down and say, “Here’s the deal. You’re not measuring up to our known performance standards, and we’ve been discussing this for awhile in the Steps of Corrective Action.

“Tell you what. You and I are going to push over the next two weeks to see if we can get your to where you need to be. If it works out after two weeks, great. If not, we can say goodbye and know that we gave it one last good chance.

“What do you say?”

Operating Power, Staffing Power

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