Do your job before firing worker

Dear Joan:
I am an office manager for a very small office (four people) and I find I have a problem I don't know how to deal with. We are faced with an employee who just isn't doing a good job and we would like to fire her. She is new in her job-only four months-and has tried but it hasn't worked out.

She has made many errors and has messed up several accounts. We trained her as much as we felt was necessary but she has continued to make repeated errors. She is literally causing us to double-check everything, which is driving everyone crazy.

I have not had much experience in these matters and I am worried that I won't follow correct procedures. I have heard of lawsuits etc. What do I do and what do I say? Thank you.

If this situation is handled well, your employee will literally fire herself. But before we talk about firing her, let's make sure that you have given her every opportunity to succeed.

Can you say "yes" to these questions? Are you certain that the training was adequate? Was someone assigned to help her with questions as they arose? Was she given clear, honest feedback each time she made an error and was she then shown how to correct it? Before you think about firing her, it's important to ask yourself these questions. If you didn't answer with a solid "yes" to each question, the problem may be your training approach.

If you feel that you have provided sufficient training and support and the employee is simply not able to do the job, it's time for a heart-to-heart talk. Find a private spot in the office and have a straightforward discussion with her.

Collect some information beforehand. Gather examples that will illustrate how her errors are hurting the business. For example, if she is messing up accounts, your customers are affected-not a good situation for a small business.

Decide what your minimum standards are for her tasks. She needs to know how she is doing in relation to your standards. For example, if you allow no typing errors on a customer's bill, she must understand that standard and why it's important. Your standards should be realistic for a trainee. It's not fair to say, "You must be 100 percent accurate in everything."

The goal of your conversation will be to make sure she understands what is expected of her and what the consequences are if she fails to meet expectations.

If you do this clearly and specifically, you have done a good job. Too many managers manage by mental telepathy; they don't spell out what their standards are and keep the consequences a secret. Then they wonder why their employee is outraged by a "pink slip."

Start your discussion by describing some of the most serious problems she has had and how they affected the company. You then need to ask her if she has any ideas for avoiding these errors in the future. Listen carefully here. If she feels you haven't provided good training, it's likely to surface now. Offer some ideas of your own.

Describe your standards and tell her that she must meet those standards. She also needs to hear that you want her to succeed on the job and that you will try to help her in any way you can. However, the responsibility for solving the problem is hers.

Finally, you can say, "I feel it is only fair to tell you what the consequences could be if you continue to have difficulty meeting these standards. It could mean that your skills aren't a good match for this job and it would be in our best interest-as well as yours- to end your employment."

Many companies, with established disciplinary procedures, require that supervisors summarize a discussion such as this in memo form and give a copy to the employee. This leaves no doubt in the employee's mind that the manager is serious and the discussion has been documented for legal purposes. If you decide to do this, the tone should be firm, fair and helpful. Don't make any judgments about her willingness, intelligence or offer any other subjective opinions. Stick to the specific errors, impact of those errors, standards and consequences of failure to improve.

If you have justifiable reasons for firing her and you can document your reasons as well as your training, feedback and support, you will be on safe legal ground. The key is making certain that your employee understands what is going on every step of the way.

These situations are never easy but if you follow the steps outlined above, the employee will know what has to be done. If you find you must fire her, she will understand why. In fact, she may "fire" herself before you are forced to do it.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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