14 March 2024 |

📓 turning tides

By Hebba Youssef

✍🏽 What is the most dignified, fair, and humane process to terminate an employee for performance-related issues?

Context: Company size 80, strong family spirit values.
We give people severance, but do not usually provide performance plans ahead of time and 90% of terminations are done same day. How can we improve this? What would the be the “ideal” procedure to separate from someone with performance problems, end to end?

📣 Morgan Stanley, Head of People at Lithic:

This is tricky – on one hand I think a lot of people would agree that PIPs don’t really work for a couple reasons, (1) they are usually delivered after the manager has failed to set clear expectations and/or provide clear and timely feedback so the PIP is the first time they’ve really heard this, and (2) I always say anyone can improve for 30 days but it is harder to keep up that good performance for longer so employees often times will come off the PIP successfully to only be back in the same situation a couple months later.

To fix your problem I would start by answering the following questions: Are you training your managers on how to give feedback? What is your performance management and goal setting process like? Do you train your employees on how to give and receive feedback? Does everyone have access to their job descriptions?

If you are training your managers on how to give feedback and they are giving it based on clearly set and agreed upon expectations, terminations become a bit better to manage. But if your managers aren’t trained and aren’t reliably giving good feedback and setting clear expectations… terminations become hairy and unpleasant for everyone.

Additionally, I’ve seen a couple things work well in terminations to make them a better experience (although there will never be a good way to fire someone).

  1. Offer a PIP or a severance option. Meaning, they can go onto the PIP if they prefer or they can take the severance. Gives them an option and ensures you – as the company – have documentation around their termination.
  2. Have a clear severance policy. Does it require a tenure? Can they keep their company issued laptop? How does this impact their equity grant? How much COBRA coverage is the company sponsoring?
  3. Ensure your managers are actually giving and documenting this feedback. Documentation is everything. Your employees should not be surprised by the decision you’ve made to terminate.
  4. Be compassionate. You are impacting someone’s life regardless of whose fault it is.

📣 Mikela Johnson, People Partner at Ever.Ag:

The more honest, open, and transparent you can be, the better. Depending on the situation, I suggest the manager approach the employee to discuss how the employee feels about their performance. Do they feel like they are meeting expectations? Do they enjoy their current role and feel it aligns with their strengths? Do they feel fulfilled? This can initiate a conversation between the manager and the employee about the leader’s expectations, any gaps in meeting those expectations, and how the leader can support the employee in pursuing new opportunities.

I wouldn’t recommend this approach with an employee who adamantly believes they are a top performer. However, for others, it presents an excellent pathway towards a mutual separation rather than termination. These conversations not only signal to the employee that the current employment arrangement isn’t ideal, but it also enables both the leader and the employee to explore alternative career opportunities and strengths, co-creating a plan for the employee’s transition off the team.

✍🏽 I love my job but this keeps happening: I address poor performance with an employee (with a supervisor present). The next day or two, the employee asks for a private discussion with HR to share concerns about their supervisor and/or file a complaint about them. What’s the best way to address performance issues, hold space for the employee who ALSO has concerns, and find out the truth?

Context: 100+ employees, real estate

📣 Alex Clermont, Director of People & Operations at TDC:

If it’s happening often, this may be something cultural to address proactively. Do employees have the access, empowerment, and internal education to know they can raise concerns about their supervisors before it gets to that point? Is anyone checking in with newer staff at different key points (3 months, 6 months, one year) without a supervisor present? If there are patterns of concerns about a particular supervisor, are they addressed?

As for being reactive, are there any patterns to the complaints you’re hearing from employees in these private discussions? Do those patterns highlight places for improvement? Maybe management training is something your organization wants to invest in. What steps are managers taking before performance issues land on your desk? Maybe those processes need to be looked at or formalized. But I would look less at “what do I do when this situation arises” and more at “why does this keep happening.”

Ideally, when the situation arises you’d be able to point to the opportunities they had ahead of time to raise concerns, and express that while you believe them and will talk to their manager, the complaint loses some edge when it’s raised after a performance review. Point out that if the situation was reversed, it would feel like retaliation. And again, definitely investigate all complaints, but encourage the complainant to utilize all these proper systems you have in the future. To do that though, you need those systems.

📣 Adrienne Rampaul, Head of People at Side: 

Without details on what the complaints are about…

I’d pursue both.

Investigate/mediate/etc. on the complaints

  • if valid, depending on what they are, might be part of the ‘why’ performance by employee is ‘low’ (mismanagement, bias, harassment, etc)
  • If valid, depending on what they are â€” get manager support/counseling/training/write-up/etc in place

Address low or poor performance

  • data validation of poor performance â€” do we have this? If not, validate poor performance
  • PIP with actions & timeline (depending if necessary)