Except for the retirement of a contented employee after a career well worked, separating an individual from an organization is invariably a painful experience.
It can trigger emotional recall dating back to childhood fears of abandonment. It can be a volatile flashpoint for pent up anger and resentment. It can be a moment of solemn self-reflection and renewed self-doubt.
Nonetheless, it is often the right thing to do in the best interests of the organization and the departing individual as well. Human Resources business partners play a critical role in advising business leaders when separation is the right choice and, just as important, how to do it correctly.
Rightful termination is far more than a way to avoid dealing with the costs and consequences of wrongful termination accusations. It refers to the art and science of keeping an organization sharp and competitive through the skillful and strategic management of talent.
More than just following strict HR guidelines and standard operating procedures, Rightful Termination is an important part of an organization’s talent lifecycle. Organizational leaders that truly recognize the importance of treating their talent as a critical component of their organization’s strategic agenda will invest in real time talent strategies.
Rightful Termination: a full time, real time responsibility
Real time talent management means addressing remedial talent issues as soon as possible, as well as addressing development of high-potential talent as soon as possible. Letting grass grow between a talent issue, good or bad, and the most appropriate response only costs the company in cash and credibility.
Even people who don’t appear to be directly affected by a talent management issue are nonetheless tuned into how talent issues are treated. How terminations are handled is just as important in establishing and maintaining integrity in the eyes of the entire organization as anything and everything that happened between that employee’s hiring and their departure from the company.
When the choice is to separate an individual from the organization, the head and the heart must inform the practical and emotional elements of the process in order that the dignity of the individual and the reputation of the company be preserved and even strengthened through the process.
From the decision making tree used to make the decision whether or not to terminate, to group coaching for the team losing its leader and adjusting to a new leader, the loss and adjustment must be dealt with in a pro-active and strategic manner or the resulting uncertainty and mistrust will have a profound and negative impact on the work environment and the individuals’ ability to contribute. Without the heart and the head both involved, termination of one person might set the stage for the unnecessary and eventual failure of others.
Start at the end and work backwards
To fully appreciate the benefits of observing Rightful Termination, do a quick overview beginning at the back-end of the process, working toward the front. This review will reveal how Rightful Termination can prevent job loss as much it provides techniques and methodology to move through a painful process as expeditiously and productively as possible:.
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- When should the manager leave the room? Once the manager and employee are both present at the notification meeting, a good HR professional will allow two or three minutes of high-level, generally-worded farewells. Then the manager’s role in the notification process and the professional relationship between manager and employee are finished. The manager should then leave the room because managers are not prepared the way HR professionals are prepared to deal with what comes next.
- What does the meltdown look like? Many HR professionals discover they must deal with all five stages of grief in about 15 minutes; not because the HR professional is in a hurry, but because the newly unemployed individual often erupts with a mixture and/or rapid sequence of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
- Has the transition already begun? The moment the manager and the employee arrive at the notification meeting, life will never be the same again. This is a critical juncture when the experienced HR professional often sequences the individual to the care of a career transition coach who goes to work immediately transforming the confusion and woundedness of the recently dis-employed person into positive energy focused on locating, securing, and succeeding in a new position or alternate career strategy.
Move back the calendar
Rightful Terminations begin when performance reviews and other talent system activities set the stage for career conversations with employees. An employee’s status should be discussed year after year during and a graph of the employee’s career growth should be kept in the individual’s HR file. The Human Resources function helps organizational managers determine if an individual falls into one of three categories:
- High Potential: This person needs to be engaged in a developmental tract as soon as possible, hopefully in a three-year plan that includes a superb blend of individual coaching, action learning, and leadership development.
- Steady Eddies or Edies: These folks are highly-skilled at what they do. They are, generally speaking, high performers, but aren’t going to set any new land-speed records nor be overly ambitious when it comes to career advancement. These critical retainers are nonetheless extremely valuable to the organization and more than likely want to stay where they are.
- Knowledge Keepers: These employees have essentially chosen out of the organization although they still come to work and reap the benefits of employment. These no longer willing yet capable people are simply not interested in further investment in the organization and, the sooner organizational policy makers recognize that further investment in Knowledge Keepers is not in the organization’s best interests, the process can begin to transition them elsewhere in the company (which might only prolong the problem) or to transition them out.
- T-r-o-u-b-l-e makers. These people don’t take long to identify. For this population, speed of termination is of the essence as their continued presence in the organization only serves to create or increase toxicity in the environment. Rightful Termination removes the resource-gorging weeds in the planter that refuse, despite all encouragement, to become flowers. Practicing Rightful Termination boosts high-potentials as it removes trouble.
All in the mind
Rightful termination is mindful of what is best for the individual and the organization, planful in strategy and anticipation of the employee’s and the organization’s possible reactions to termination, transfer, or promotion decisions, and thoughtful in considering what is truly in the best long-term interests of everyone involved.
Any position an individual holds should be terminated in due time to allow the individual to accept greater responsibilities in a new role or to move out of the organization and seek, as The Walt Disney Company puts it, “Their happiness elsewhere.”
Why are so many organizations so clumsy when terminating employees? Why do they wait six months, 12 months, or even longer after they are fully aware a separation is the best for everyone?
Although that’s a fascinating topic for another article, it’s not essential to know why. Practicing the principles of Rightful Termination will steer the organization clear of the treacherous waters of wrongful termination while providing all employees the greatest opportunities for success.
The key to Rightful Termination is to adopt the correct perspective on career transition and then to build competencies around how to skillfully execute an ongoing plan to keep the organizational population healthy and energized.