Letting a low performer go

As managers, we'll have to let a team member go at some point in our careers. I have yet to read much about it in either books or blog posts, so I want to share some of the advice I got over the years, hoping it will be helpful to whoever reads this post.

First, it's ok to feel anxious and uncomfortable about it. I've faced this situation many times in my career, and it has never improved. For instance, a friend who recently had to do this told me one week before letting the person go that he was having difficulty getting asleep due to thinking about it. 

Important: Letting someone go due to performance reasons is a process that starts weeks or months before. I won't focus on how to make a performance improvement plan in this short post. Still, I'm assuming you already communicated to the person way before that they were not meeting their performance expectations, giving them a chance (and hopefully tools) to improve. The fact is that they are still not meeting the expected performance for their role. The more precise you are about performance expectations and the consequences of not meeting the performance, the easier it will be for you and, sometimes, the person to go through the moment you let them go.

Warning: Do not take this as legal advice. I'm reporting based on my experience.

The process 

The process was something like this in the different companies I worked with. First, you align the steps/process with your human resources/talent department. The two essential things of the process are:

  1. The meeting where you let the person go and the reasons (a talent team member will usually be present). 
  2. Someone from IT or HR will cut the person's access to the company systems (while you're having the meeting).   

The meeting 

The way you communicate during the meeting is essential. The person will probably experience anxiety when they see you with a talented team member, so I think it's better to start the meeting briefly and go to the point. Start by telling the person you are letting them go for performance reasons. Let them know the person from the talent team is there to give them the administrative details. Then, provide some time for the person to process the information. After giving them some time, you can ask them if they want to say something. 

It is crucial that during the meeting, you do not go over the details of their performance or discuss past situations or anything like that. At this point, discussing the matter could make it more complex or confusing for the person to process it. If the person wants to discuss things, you can clarify to them that the decision has already been made, and this meeting is not for discussing the details but to let them know of the decision. 

You want to hear what the person says and allow them to discharge. It will be uncomfortable, and that's ok and part of your role. You are also allowed to leave the room if the person starts attacking you personally or insulting you (the talent team member will most likely intervene at that point). 

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Matias Lespiau

Matias Lespiau

Madrid, Spain