Handling Terminations With Tact

I love to fire people. Some days I walk around the office just itching to can someone. But it makes me happy when I cant think of a single reason to do so, because then I know everyone is on task and moving projects forward with skill and ability.

Ididnt always love the process of firing. It took me a while to figure out what a positive, business-enriching tool a termination can be. A lot of emotions are involved in letting someone go, and its a skill youre not taught in business school. Such authority is a big responsibility and must be exercised with caution. Its like a big hammer: Used well, it can help create beautiful things; but used recklessly or without skill, it can hurt the wielder and others.

There are four general situations in which a self-storage operator should consider terminating an employee:

  • It has become obvious the employee is not qualified for the job.
  • The employee is stealing from the business.
  • The employee has not meshed well into the business culture.
  • The operator needs to cut expenses.

There might be other applicable situations, but whatever the cause, a termination is a touchy state of affairs. You dont have to love it, but sometimes its necessary for the health of your business. These guidelines will help see you through.

Not Qualified

If you hired someone who was unqualified, no one is happy. The employee is frustrated. Your customers are aggravated. Your business is not running smoothly. You have to fix the problem for everyone concerned, and you have to do it fast. In the end, its a tremendous relief when the person is let go. Customers get the service they deserve, and the business can move forward. The employee can find a position for which he is better suited. Everybody wins.

Business owners may know the qualifications they seek in a candidate, but its often hard to tell if a person is the best choice for a position until they are actually in it. An applicant can look good on paper, but the proof is in the pudding. Thats why most companies have a probation/orientation period that lasts long enough to determine if a hire is decent. If he isnt, the company can release him from employment and move on. No one has to become emotionally tangledthings just didnt work out. Everyone tries to make a better choice next time.

Whatever you do, dont let your business suffer. Dont let someone linger in mediocrity for an extended period. He thought he could handle the jobso did you! The best course of action now is to sit the person down and say it straight: Thank you for trying. I dont think this is going to work out. We are not going to have you continue on, and we are releasing you effective immediately. In the end, hell be happy to go on about his life, knowing you didnt string him along.

If youre just not sure if you made a good hire, discuss your concerns with the employee and explain what improvements can be made in a specific time frame. Then its up to him to make the cut. If he does, hell feel good about it, and so will you. If he doesnt, then he cant question your decision to terminate.

Each time you realize youve made a bad choice, step back and review your recruiting and interview practices. You may have a loop in the system that is letting poorly qualified people to slip through. Or it may be the person had the initial qualifications, but was unable or unwilling to transfer a skill set to your operation. You cant bat 1,000 when it comes to hiring; but you can learn to recognize when youve made a mistake and deal with the situation expediently.

Employee Theft

If you discover an employee has been stealing from you, you may actually enjoy firing him. The person could be stealing money, or it could be resources or time. Rude, uncooperative and lazy people should not be a protected class. Laziness is a form of theft, so take steps to motivate people out of their idleness, and fire them quickly if they dont mend their ways.

I once had an employee work a very lame con on my company. He was a talented, bright young man who, for whatever reason, scammed us for about $50 per week. It only took about three weeks to notice the discrepancy and another three to figure out his game and nail him. Because of the relatively small size of the theft, the prosecuting attorney let him off on a plea for 12 months of probation; but I hope it was enough to stop him from moving in a criminal direction. It did put our other employees on notice that even petty theft would be prosecuted.

Sometimes its hard to prove someone is stealing. In this case, an audit may be the answer. Even if there are no suspects other than the employee in question, youll need hard evidence before you can act. Sometimes it may be easier to terminate the person for a reason other than stealing to get him to go away quietly. You can give him the choice to resign, or fire him for any of the reasons outlined in the unemployment claim forms. It will give you a lot less satisfaction, but it will get this person off of your payroll and his hands out of the till.

If you decide to terminate on the basis of theft, its best to fire the employee and get him off your premises as quickly and quietly as possible to avoid outbursts or other repercussions. When you lay it on the line, you may get denials and please for mercy, or you may get stone-faced silence. In either case, make it clear that he is released and follow through with a letter of termination.

If you wish to prosecute, consult with local police before terminating. They may want to gather evidence while the person is still in your employ. This is your choice. Most business owners want the perpetrator off their property as soon as possible after a discovery of this sort. In many cases, the conviction may not amount to much, but the fact that you have sought justice may be gratifying in itself. In any event, you will have gotten a well-earned education in employee theft.

Not a Good Fit

If you have an employee who simply doesnt mesh well with the rest of your team, make sure he understands why he doesnt fit and give him some turnaround time for improvement. Sometimes a bad fit is nothing more than miscommunication, which can be easily rectified. Other times, personalities clash and people do not work well together.

Some employees develop a chip on their shoulder or go sour on you after theyve been hired. Some become overprotective of their turf and drive off other staff. It might even be a very productive member of the team who is creating a poor work environment. If theres a lot of drama involved, it can be tricky to determine whos responsible for the problem and who needs to be let go. Youll have to decide which staff members are the most valuable and make the call.

A termination of this sort saves the team as a whole and puts it back on the right path. The remaining staff generally feels an overwhelming sense of relief after the bad apple is gone, which gives the workplace a boost and leaves everyone free to pursue a new level of work satisfaction.

Not every business can enjoy a perfect society. A minimal amount of background static is normal and shows you have employees with personalities and ambitions; but ongoing conflict is never productive. You may not enjoy firing a bad-fit employee, but it will certainly feel good after you have done it.

Cutbacks

If you need to cut expenses and find the only way to do it is by letting someone go, make it happen. Sometimes payroll is the only flexible item on your list. In this case, make it as quick and painless as possible. Let the employee know you have explored all possible options, and you simply do not see another out. Thank him for his service and send him on his way. He wont be happy, but hopefully the move will allow your numbers to recover, and you can begin to build your business to a more profitable level.

A severance package can help lessen the blow and make the termination easier for everyone. When possible, offer this assistance to employees who are let go for something other than poor performance. Be generous without going overboard. If you offer too much, the employee will wonder if your financial concerns are genuine. Offer too little, and he may harbor bad feelings and ill will for the company.

A Clear Conscience

For whatever reason you terminate, make sure your motivations are valid and completely unrelated to discrimination. Rely on good business practices and sound management principles when making your decision. To do otherwise could cost you in legal fees, fines and settlements. Before you terminate, make sure your conscience is clear and your motives untainted.

I once knew a female delivery driver who didnt like her job, called in sick all the time, and was consequently fired. She knew she deserved to be let go for poor attendance, if not a poor attitude. But during the termination, her manager said, We didnt really want a girl delivering for us anyway. That stupid utterance cost him about $15,000. Her gender had nothing to do with the fact she was not meeting expectations, but the manager let slip his idiotic thought.

During a termination, communicate your intention to the employee as quickly and clearly as possible. Its best to have another manager or supervisor in the room as a witness, because it can be an emotional situation. Keep a clear headdo not get angry or upset by anything the employee says to you. Its also best to write up a termination sheet with any applicable conditions and have each party sign it. This will prevent future complications.

If you have not already consulted a workplace legal advisor, do so. Your state, municipality or employment contracts may outline obligations, guidelines or restrictions you must follow. A termination should be approached with reason and tact. Wield your hammer of authority wisely and with care, and you will learn to appreciate it.

Tron Jordheim is the director of PhoneSmart, an off-site sales force that helps storage owners rent to more people through its call center, secret-shopping service, sales-training programs and Want2Store.com facility locator. You can read what he is up to at www.selfstorageblog.com. For more information, e-mail [email protected].

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