The hardest thing you'll ever have to do as a manager is to fire someone.
Not the bozo who embezzled money from the company. Not the bungler who caused five of your biggest clients to move to the competitor.
They're the easy ones to fire.
The hardest employee to fire is the one who isn't producing the work your organization needs right now. He's a decent enough fellow--he might even be your best friend. But things just aren't working out.
So how do you fire your best friend?
With truth, compassion, and respect.
Below is the general script I've refined through the years that has helped me and employees part as friends.
Set the Meeting--Right Away
"Can you hop on a call? I want to talk to you about something."
(In the case of a brick-and-mortar company, you'd ask them to step into your office.)
Set the meeting with minimal notice, so the employee doesn't suffer while waiting for the meeting to take place. Remember, if you've been following a good performance review process, they've probably seen this coming.
Begin with the End
Get straight to the point. Here's a script I've adapted from Michael Hyatt:
"You and I are about to have a conversation that neither of us is going to enjoy. The reason we're meeting is because I've decided to terminate your employment with our company. I've considered all the options and evaluated them carefully, and I feel like this is in the best interest of the company and in your best interest as well."
If you think you have to give an explanation, say:
"The work you're excited to do and are producing is not aligned with what we need and want in the role. And so I've reached this decision."
Make it clear that your decision is non-negotiable and irrevocable.
Dick Grote, author of How to Be Good at Performance Appraisals, recommends using the past tense to discourage arguments and requests for second chances.
You may be tempted to ramble, but "don't talk too much," admonishes Dr. Carl Greenberg, President of Pragmatic HR. Doing so may give the impression that your decision is up for discussion.
Let the Person Respond
"I know this is a lot to take in. Take a moment. I do want to be clear that this is not up for discussion. This decision has been made. But if you have questions, I'm happy to answer them. That can be now or it can be in a few days after you've had a chance to process. Whatever works for you."
Now, be quiet and listen.
If they ask for a more detailed explanation, give concrete examples and observations.
Lauren Bacon, tech entrepreneur and business coach, has good suggestions for how to respond if your employee asks for details:
"The company needs ___ right now, and that hasn't been your strength," or
"We've made several attempts to get you up to speed on ___ but we didn't see the progress we hoped for."
Give the person a moment to process, and respond to their needs. If they need to vent, let them vent.
Show the Way Forward
"You don't have to answer right now, but I encourage you to take a few days to think about what you want your next move to be. Tell me what that is and how I can facilitate making that happen, whether that's introductions or letters of reference. Tell me where you want to end up and we'll do what we can to help you get there."
Take note of their answer, remembering that they'll probably have a more cohesive plan after they've had a few days to think things through.
Finally, talk about the logistics of their off-boarding process, like severance pay, turning over company property and documents, and how their termination will be announced to the organization.
Before closing, ask:
"Is there anything else you'd like to ask or say?"
Telling someone they're fired is never easy, but following a template like the one above makes the experience less painful for everyone involved.