Be direct, be respectful
As an HR professional, there have been many occasions throughout my career where I have needed to deliver unpleasant, upsetting and job-ending decisions. Despite this, I always strive in these circumstances to be direct, get to the point, and be calm, kind and considerate of the other's feelings.
Call me an idealist, but it is rare that I come across people in organisations who are deliberately and wilfully negligent in fulfilling their job requirements. Most people come to work and do the best they can.
Sometimes, as we all do, people make bad choices, use poor judgement, are ill-equipped, under-resourced, or simply incompetent. This doesn't make them a bad person. Remembering this during the tough conversations will set you up to deliver the message in a way that allows the person to retain their dignity and respect for you, and the organisation you are representing.
I once was dealing with an employee who was having ongoing performance and conduct issues. We had met with her several times and explained why she was not meeting the company's expectations, culminating in her being issued a final written warning. A short while later, there was a further incident where she lost her cool and ended up in altercation with a client representative. After following the appropriate investigation process, we met with her to deliver the news that we had decided to terminate her employment. Long story short, at the conclusion of the meeting, she got up from her chair, came across to my side of the room.... and hugged me! She said:
"Thank you for always being honest with me, and for treating me with respect."
I can be a hard one to crack in these situations, but this brought a tear to my eye; and reminded me of the importance of doing what I do, and doing it with kindness.
One of the worst things you can do for an employee who is struggling with their performance, (and for your own protection against industrial issues), is to be wishy-washy and indirect in your communication. It is very important for the employee to know very clearly what they have done (or not done), or how they are not meeting yours, or the organisation's expectations; what is required of them in future, and what the consequences will be if they don't meet these expectations. It is extremely important for an employee to know if their job is on line. This shows respect.
If a manager comes to me seeking approval to terminate the employment of an employee; amongst many considerations, one will be whether the employee could have a reasonable expectation that their performance or conduct could result in termination. If not, it is likely that I will advise against termination until this eventuality has been made clear to the employee. No-one likes yucky surprises!
When delivering a message to an employee, it is vital that you remain calm and measured in your communication style. If you get angry, frustrated, irate or overly emotional, what you are saying will get lost and the employee will only remember how you behaved, not what you said.
Emotions can cloud the message.
People remember how you made them feel, not necessarily what you said
One of the reasons I encourage employees to bring a support person to performance meetings, is that sometimes it is helpful to have someone else in the room who is listening to what is being said, without having their mind clouded by the emotions of the situation.
Ultimately, how you treat your employees during times of under-performance can have an impact not only on the morale of the employee themselves, but on your wider employee group.
Always remember that you are a person/employee too. How would you like to be treated in these circumstances?
If you would like assistance with people issues in your organisation, please contact me to discuss how.