Getting unstuck, and the finer points of employee termination

Departments - Ask the Experts

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January 24, 2011

Q. My company is stuck and not growing. What can I do to jump-start growth?
A: Often when a company is stuck, it means that internally some changes have to be made.

For example, if an owner is in the field and has been relying on a ringing telephone to keep him busy, then creating a marketing plan may start to grow the business. But, he should not expect to get immediate results from marketing. It is a long-term endeavor that takes some time to rev up. The owner or salesperson may need to get out in the community more and network.

Most businesses get the majority of their work from five to 25 relationships. The owner/salesperson needs to work these relationships and build new ones. It’s been my experience that it’s better to hire a professional salesperson to help grow the business; someone whose sole focus is to go out and sell. Companies already have people selling, but they are not professional business developers.

When you hire someone from outside the industry, since they cannot be over reliant on their technical knowledge, they must possess great sales skills to succeed. There are many variables that go into growing your company; for example, the quality of your leads. Better qualifying of your leads will create time to spend with better leads, past customers and key centers of influence in your community.

One of the most important aspects of growing your business is to identify the product or service you sell that drives the growth and profitability of your entire company.

This is called your hedgehog  concept, a term coined by Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great.” For a client of mine in New York, its hedgehog is its lawn care services. Even though it does all kinds of landscape and design/maintenance, it finds that the more lawn care it sells, the more it sells of everything else.

For any company looking to grow, the owner must get very clear on which part of the company is making money and focus on growing the more profitable service(s). If no part of the business is profitable, then it is important to first figure out what is hindering proper margins and profitability. Get profitable first, and then grow.

PLANET Trailblazer Jeffrey Scott, Landscape Success Systems

Q: How should I conduct an employee termination meeting?
A: Though extremely stressful, this type of meeting is best conducted in a concise and straightforward fashion focusing on three goals: (a) presenting documented evidence that warrants employee termination, (b) minimizing the likelihood of a wrong termination claim and (c) showing appropriate respect to the employee during this difficult event. The following five-step sequence outlines the basic process to help ensure a successful employee termination meeting:

Meeting Preparation. Never conduct a termination alone; always have a witness in the room with you at all times. Have all administrative forms and documentation at the meeting. Do not lie to the employee or stretch the truth; always show the employee respect. The meeting should not exceed 20 minutes.

The Decision. Remain calm and confident and maintain appropriate eye contact with the employee. The less said, the better the result will be. Once the employee arrives, explain the purpose of the meeting. Following are two examples of statements you can use:

Statement 1 (for a chronic performance problem):  “As you know, you and I have had several meetings over the past several weeks/months to discuss your performance-related issues (e.g., interpersonal skills, accuracy of work). Despite that coaching, your performance has not improved to the required level of your position. As a result, today will be your last day of employment with this company.”

Statement 2 (for a major policy violation):  “An investigation has provided us with evidence that you violated company policy (e.g., sexual harassment, alcohol use, timecard fraud) on (specify date). As stated in the employee handbook that you signed on (specify date), that policy violation has the consequence of employee termination. As a result, today will be your last day of employment with this company.”

Employee Response. Be prepared for any possible response from the employee (e.g., swearing, verbal attack, crying). Let the employee vent, express shock, or ask questions; remain calm regardless of the response. While stressful to you, it is potentially catastrophic for the employee (e.g., lack of income).

Do not respond emotionally to the employee; stay focused only on the performance issue. When in doubt, remain quiet. When challenged, simply restate the evidence and the decision. The employee may note your comments, which could lead to a wrongful termination claim.

Administrative Process. After the responses and rebuttals have occurred, introduce the administrative part of the meeting. Request all company materials from the employee (e.g., keys, cell phone, files, tools, gas card).

Present the documents (e.g., paychecks, COBRA, 401(k) information) to the employee. Have the employee sign a Termination Form acknowledging the administrative details. The employee may either consent or continue to respond (e.g., explanation, accusation, sarcasm, victimization); maintain poise in both scenarios. Your rebuttals to the employee’s responses should restate the comments made earlier.

Exit. As the meeting comes to a close, state “I wish you the best as you continue in your career.” Escort the employee to his/her workstation to retrieve personal belongings or to the exit.

Never leave the employee unattended (this could result in fake workers’ compensation claims, theft or an IT virus being installed on your system).

Once the employee has left the premises, debrief the meeting with the witness. Document any noteworthy comments, responses, and/or actions.

File all documentation in the employee’s personnel file.

Steven Cesare, Ph.D., Industrial Psychologist, The Harvest Group