Dismissing an employee is one of the most difficult and unpleasant tasks a Manager will have to deal with.
And so it should be.
Irrespective of the reason for dismissal, be it conduct, capability or redundancy as a Manager you are taking away somebody’s livelihood and that is not a responsibility that should be taken lightly.
It is for these reasons that many Manager’s shy away from having the conversation and when they do have it they do not deal with it as well as, in hindsight, they would have wished to, or as well as they have other conversations.
In this article I have highlighted the steps to take to manage the conversation in a professional manner.
I have not referenced the procedures that have to be followed before the conversation, either an investigation and disciplinary process in cases of conduct or capability, or selection and consultation in cases of redundancy.
I have focussed on Having That Difficult Conversation only.
PREPARE THOROUGHLY. CHECK THE FACTS AND THEN CHECK THEM AGAIN
Thorough preparation is essential. Give yourself sufficient time to prepare for the meeting, this is one meeting that you cannot get wrong. Go over all of the facts and be prepared to challenge them, and your colleagues who have presented them to you. Don't assume that they are correct, be certain.
Further, you should put yourself in the shoes of the employee who is being dismissed. When I have had to conduct dismissal meetings as part of my preparation I always found it useful to imagine I was sitting on the other side of the table. What questions would I ask, what facts would I challenge, how would I react to statements that were made, and the way they were made?
I once worked with an HR Director who had previously held a high ranking position in the army. I remember him saying to me “time spent undertaking recognisance is never wasted”. So it is with preparation.
PLAN THE MEETING BUT DON’T READ FROM A SCRIPT
Sequentially this follows on from the above point. All meetings should have a structure, this one more than any other, to ensure that you do not lose focus. Lack of preparation and planning should never be an excuse for managing the meeting badly.
I have always found it advantageous to prepare a comprehensive checklist highlighting all of the key points that I must ensure that I cover. My checklist also addresses how I want the meeting to run and would include the following.
What am I going to say in introduction; what is the best way to explain the structure of the meeting how am I going to present the facts, verbally or with supporting documentation, at what points am I going to invite comment and reply, how much dialogue and discussion am I going to encourage and allow, how am I going to record what is being said, despite my preparation how will I manage the unexpected – there is no guarantee it's going to go as I have planned -, what key points do I want to make, what phrases should I use, at what point and in what way am I going to advise dismissal.
One thing that you absolutely must not do is read from a script. It's disrespectful to the person sitting opposite you and prevents you engaging in the right way; with measured authority and empathy.
Having explained the virtues of preparing a checklist, and the “no no” of reading from a script, it is advisable to prepare and have in front of you a single sheet with five or six key bullet points and phrases you want to use. In stressful meetings it's easy to forget things. The checklist will prevent this from happening.
DO NOT FORGET THAT YOU ARE MANAGING THE MEETING
Be clear, concise focussed (and assertive) in the way you manage the meeting.
Don’t adopt a timid, apologetic almost subservient approach.
Striking the right balance between the two contrasting styles is important.
It's often the case that when we don't want to have a conversation we tend not to make a good job of having it. Secondly, because we don't want to have it we rush it and make a "bit of a mess of it". This is why preparation is so important.
Finally, it is you who have called the meeting and are therefore responsible for managing it effectively. From my experience, even in the most difficult situations employees expect their managers to conduct themselves in a way that represents their authority. They expect you to be in charge - so be in charge.
TIME MANAGE THE MEETING TO ENSURE IT IS PROPERLY CONDUCTED
Allow sufficient time for the meeting, don't rush it, but equally don't allow it to become unnecessarily long.
If you anticipate that the meeting will take 20 minutes, allow 30 but don't be surprised if it is over in 15. Encourage the employee to engage with you, challenge you and ask questions. Although you “might not want to hear it”, like other meetings this should be a dialogue not a monologue.
The most difficult dismissal meeting I have ever had to manage was one where the employee being dismissed sat there, looked at me and didn't say a word. As people we are used to engaging with others, when that does not happen we find ourselves outside of our comfort zone and run the risk of starting to waffle – I know that I do.
Summarise throughout but without being patronising, check that the employee understands what is being said. Having been in that situation once (redundancy) the mind really does go blank when you hear the word dismissal or redundancy.
The important thing is to be satisfied that all of the points that needed to be covered have been covered and as best they can, have been understood.
At the end of the meeting summarise again and explain that you will confirm what has been discussed, and the outcome of the meeting in writing and when you will do this.
CONFIRM IN WRITING TO THE EMPLOYEE AND UNDERTAKE POST MEETING ACTIONS
Although not part of the conversation, it's important that matters are communicated in writing. The letter should summarise the matters discuss, the decision reached, and the reason for reaching that decision, details of the appeal process, the final payments due and when the employee can expect to receive these along with their P45.
Finally, as appropriate, communicate what you have done to others. Don't underestimate the importance of managing this communication properly. Don't allow the grapevine to do your job for you.