It doesn’t matter how many degrees you have, firing someone is one of the hardest things many of us will ever have to do. It is a challenge and nothing prepares you for knowing that you are in essence changing someone’s life. Unfortunately, it is a necessary evil and a vital part of keeping a great working environment. If one member of the team is not preforming to company standards, allowing them to stay is not in the best interest of the company or the team.
Firing an employee can be less difficult if you take the time to cover your bases. Being a teacher in special education, unfortunately, I have had to recommend termination of services for para-professionals (teaching assistants). I also feel it is very similar to failing a student in a subject. Both are painful experiences, because by nature I want to see people succeed and believe if given the right instruction and dedication that everyone can be successful. However, I have had to learn that effort needs to be two ways and no matter how hard I try, the choice is really up to the employee/student.
As a manager/teacher, you have to set clear goals and expectations. It is important to have these goals and expectations in writing. This will keep everything clear and vivid for the person. It is important to teach what is expected and provide positive feedback and constructive criticism. With my instructional aides, we usually have a goal sheet that we create together and we put the objectives for both of us and the student that we are servicing. We meet every three weeks to see where we are and what is working and what is not working. I do this same thing with my students. I have a learning contract and we spell out what is expected of each of us. We also check in every three weeks to evaluate what is working and what needs to be fixed. In a business the bottom line in many cases is sales and productivity. In school, the bottom line is grades and success in behavioral contracts.
It is important that you continue to put strategies together and collaborate solutions. It becomes essential to have a yin-yang relationship or success will never happen. People have to be ready to work together and be ready to change. It is important to advocate the needs of each person to determine the best course of action. If both parties are not committed to the plan, then there is no balance. No balance creates no clear solution. Unwillingness to collaborate and commit to follow the goals means it is time for a change, which unfortunately means firing or allowing a student to fail.
Unfortunately, I have had to recommend termination and fail students. It is hard, but one of the first things I have learned is that it can’t be about me. Being unsuccessful is a choice. Being unwilling to change and mesh with the team is a choice. Being unwilling to collaborate and follow well thought out and spelled out goals and directives is a choice. If my teaching assistance/students choose not to follow the goals and norms of the room and choose not to be committed and dedicated to change, then they choose to fail. Life is about choices. As soon as you realize that you have provided all that you can to create a successful partnership but the other party chooses not to engage, then they choose to be fired or fail.
So, it really becomes a matter of conveying and reminding them of the natural consequences of their choices. Here is the best ways to do it:
1. A firing or failing should not be unexpected.
Firing or failing is the final stages of ongoing strategy sessions and collaboration. The employee/student should have been working on a plan to fulfill the needs and expectations of the work/school environment. Strategies should have been in place to ensure the highest levels of success. Most importantly, check in periods are vital to monitor success and set backs. A deadline should be announced (this is easier in school with quarters and marking periods). This makes firing really a final agreement to part ways. Unfortunately, in a school environment and or any job, physical and sexual abuse is not a strategy session, it is an immediate termination. Fortunately, I have never encountered this scenario.
2. Be empathetic to what the other person is going through.
Understand that this may be the hardest thing that the person will ever have to go through. It is important to let them know that this was not an easy decision. It is a difficult situation and that you apologize for the outcome. Let them know that it does matter and that you are sorry that this decision had to be made. We are human and there are times that we are secretly glad that it is over, especially if the working relationship was not a fit. However, it is important that you convey a genuine compassion. Don’t feel the need to remind them of all there flaws. All the strategy sessions will let them know where they came up short. It is better to let them have some pride and dignity. Maybe they weren’t ready for the job. It is better to let them save face and make a plan for another day rather than humiliate them and possibly emotionally scar them for a long time.
3. Be clear and don’t beat around the bush.
It is better to let them know immediately of your decision. I always found that easing the information slowly only caused unnecessary anxiety. You won’t soften the blow and there is no need to carry on if your decision is final.
4. The conversation should be brief.
If your decision is final don’t enter into the debate. In school terms, we say don’t “pick up the rope” or “start the dance.” This can be particularly hard for people that make it about them. You don’t need to go back and forth, you just need to give your decision and move on. Remember, if you did the right thing and made strategy sessions and constant feedback, then the employee/student knows its coming. You don’t need to explain your decision, it was clear right from the beginning. Don’t make it about you. If they choose not to do the work, if they choose not to collaborate, if they choose not to meet the expectations, then they choose to fail. They choose to be fired. Remember, you are tying up loose ends and handling logistics, like keys, COBRA, pay, etc.
5. Understand you’re human and you need to give yourself time to recover.
You wouldn’t be a compassionate, human being if you did not find firing and failing someone a difficult job. It is never easy to tell someone they aren’t successful. Like it or not, you are changing their lives. As much as I want to, I have learned, I can’t save everybody. But, being fair and treating people with respect will hopefully put them in a place for them to learn and to grow. Maybe next time, they will be ready and in a better place for success. They may not like you, but if you do it right, they will respect you.