Why Being Fired Should Never be a Surprise

One of the most difficult tasks for a manager is to fire an employee– it affects you, them, and your team. However, when you fire someone for poor performance it should never be a surprise to the person being terminated. In fact, if you’re doing it right, an employee will likely leave on their own ahead of the “you’re fired” conversation.

Much of the heartache of firing can be mitigated with a standardized process for performance management. Here’s a recommended process:


Everything starts with onboarding. This is the time for you to set expectations and prepare your new hires for their role. You can avoid many performance issues down the road by starting off on the right foot. A good performance management process begins with onboarding:

  • Your company values and policies have been clearly communicated to the employee on, or even before, their first day. They also know which of these policies and values, if violated, are fireable offenses.
  • Your employee has developed a plan of action and measurable goals for their first 90 days.
  • You are meeting with your employee and checking progress against defined goals every week and stepping in for help as needed.
  • After 90 days, you both check in on goals and reassess. Are they meeting expectations? If not, do they need more training? More time to ramp? Do they have any roadblocks? Be sure to ask yourself these questions because some performance issues can be solved with training, more time to ramp, or managing roadblocks.
  • If employees are not meeting expectations for reasons like core value misalignment, behavioral issues, or reasons that you cannot address on your own, it may be time to go through a performance management process with them.

Performance Management

Performance management is a critical process for every organization. It helps set expectations with employees that are underperforming and keeps you from being sued. Often times, documented counseling will offer the “kick in the pants” that an employee needs to do better. At Hireology, we have a clearly defined process for performance improvement that has two steps: the first is Documented Counseling and the second is a Performance Improvement Plan. Pulled straight from our manager handbook, here’s the process that has worked well for us:

  • If an employee is underperforming for at least two months, they are put on Documented Counseling for a period of four weeks. The first step of this process is a meeting where the employee’s underperformance is clearly outlined and the manager and employee create a mutually agreed upon plan for improvement.
  • While an employee is under performance management, although it’s the employee’s responsibility, the manager should take interest in meeting with the employee as regularly as requested and as their schedule allows to ensure they are receiving the support needed.
  • If there is no improvement during Documented Counseling, the employee is put on a four-week manager-defined Performance Improvement Plan. The expectation is clear from the beginning: “If you are unable to meet the goals defined in this plan, then we will likely have to part ways.”
  • At the end of the Performance Improvement Plan, after reviewing goal achievement as defined by the plan, if the employee still has not met expectations, the end result is clear. You will both know it’s time to part ways (or the employee has already realized this and has resigned).

Letting Someone Go

Letting an employee go with dignity is critical to keeping a positive atmosphere in the office. Here are some best practices around letting someone go:

  • Do it at the end of the day.
  • Managers should have the conversation in-person. If it’s not possible, a video conference is second best.
  • You should have an HR team member in the room. If you don’t have one, it’s wise to include a second manager in the conversation.
  • Walk the employee out after the conversation and have someone else grab their things and meet you outside. If something does not fit in their bag, mail it to them later.
  • If the employee is remote, mail them a box for their office supplies and computer and give them a deadline for when it should be returned to the company.

If expectations are clear and processes are well defined, there is no guessing as to whether or not an employee should go. By following processes like these, you’ll never surprise someone with a termination, and you’ll have fewer sleepless nights.