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Time to grasp the nettle!

Most of you have been there - you have a poor performer on your team, you know you need to remove them but don’t know how to do it – it’s a tough conversation, easily put off, however you need to do something about it rather than hope and pray the Employee decides to leave before you must deal with it!

But how do you do you have THAT conversation? In my many years within the HR field, I have had to terminate many Employees for many various reasons, it’s not a pleasant conversation but I have learnt the hard way the best approach to use. 

Here are some pointers to help you prepare and finally “grasp the nettle”!

  • It shouldn’t be a surprise to the Employee – dealing with poor performance requires one to one conversations that are followed up formally in writing that explain the performance issues, the changes you expect to see and by when. This takes time and effort, not a lot of time but apparently a lot of effort as its often not done!  It’s easier to have the conversation over and over again than spend 10 minutes dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s with a follow up letter.

When advising Business Owners today, I always ask, “Have you spoken to the Employee?” “Yes, many, many times and now I have had enough!”’ but nothing has ever been put in writing.  You need only have 4 conversations on poor performance with an Employee if you follow up with written expectations – the verbal warning, a written warning, a final written warning and finally the dismissal – by which time the Employee knows exactly what the conversation will be about, no surprises.

  • Plan ahead of time and be prepared. Go into the meeting knowing the key information the Employee will want to know – their date of leaving, last working day in the office (if its different), final settlement amount and the date their visa needs to be cancelled by.  Put all these points in the letter confirming the termination and give this to them at the meeting – this allows the Employee time to review what you have just told them and come back to you with any questions they may have.

  • Be understanding of the message you are telling them. Don’t expect the Employee to go back to work after you have told them they have lost their job, let them go home and allow them time to reflect on what just happened.  Have the conversation towards the end of the day and ideally just before the weekend, this should ensure that the office is not that busy when they leave the meeting.

  • Know when to stop speaking. Be to the point, show empathy but keep the message short and easily understood.  The Employee will only hear the first few lines anyway and will need time to reflect, they don’t need to hear you waffling on when all they want to do is leave.

  • It’s not about you, it’s about them. Don’t be that person that spends most of the conversation saying how sorry you are, how dreadful you feel, bursting into tears whilst the employee you are terminating is comforting you!

  • It’s not personal, its business. Keep this going through your head when you are having the conversation.  Regardless of the reason you are letting them go, there is no reason to rehash this, the final decision has been made so concentrate on this not on your personal feelings and perhaps anger over the way the employee has behaved.  It’s not an easy conversation and you should take no pleasure from having it.  Keeping it professional will help both of you.

If you have a people issue that you would like to discuss, don’t wait until it becomes a bigger issue, drop me an email at and I’ll help you navigate through the best process for you to follow in your circumstances.


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Claire Donnelly

Written by Claire Donnelly

A Business Growth and HR Strategist helping medium size companies to Scale Up using proven systems. Claire is an MCIPD qualified Human Resource professional, with 25+ years’ experience working within various industries and 10 + years’ experience of HR practices throughout the Middle East. As a HR Generalist she has held a number of senior and Board level HR positions. She is experienced in working at both strategic and tactical levels.

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