No good manager enjoys the process of firing staffers, but it's an essential skill and there are simple strategies to do it as effectively and painlessly as possible, experts tell the Harvard Business Review.
Laying off staff is one of the most important—and arguably the most distasteful—tasks of being a manager. Companies that poorly manage layoffs can "suffer tremendous consequences," ranging from lawsuits to developing a bad reputation, says Andy Molinsky, professor of organizational behavior at Brandeis University International Business School.
"Nobody ever got promoted because they fire well," adds Laurence J. Stybel, an executive in residence at Suffolk University’s Sawyer Business School. "But your career can get sidetracked if you don’t treat people in a dignified way."
Experts say there are simple strategies that will make it easier to deliver the hard message.
Find a private place to deliver the news. Use a room that maintains the dignity of the person being laid off, but also enables the staffer to "storm out" of the conversation, if necessary. Deliver the news on a Friday when possible—the timing allows the person to process the decision during the weekend—and bring a box of tissues, too.
Be direct. Begin the conversation with "I have some bad news to deliver," says Stybel, because it sets the tone for the meeting. The conversation should not be drawn out, and an HR representative can be at the meeting and should take over when appropriate.
Have a script, but don't rely on it. Being able to fall back on prepared remarks can help a manager make it through the difficult conversation, but sticking to a scripted message can come across as mechanical.
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Don't get distracted. It can be easy to be affected by the emotions of the conversation, but avoid letting the firing meeting become a debate about the decision or the worker's performance.
Be compassionate. Never talk about "how difficult" the decision has been, which is irrelevant to the employee. If appropriate, offer resources to help the employee, such as writing a recommendation letter or connecting the staffer with your own professional network.
Decompress afterwards. The psychological trauma of laying off staff can affect even tenured managers, who should take time to process the decision and even take a break from work (Knight, Harvard Business Review, 6/26).
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