Highly Productive Teams

I have been fortunate to participate in teams where members engaged each other in an inclusive way that energized, inspired, embraced change, and just plain made work more productive and fun. I refer to these teams as Highly Productive Teams. These teams always seem to position the rewards and accolades of success with the team and never the individuals involved. They keep their eye on the ball and collaborate instinctively to achieve the project vision. However, I’ve also seen firsthand organizations that don’t collaborate and have a silo mentality, hoard information, and resist change. They assign blame or success to individuals and in doing so they often neglect the overall goals and vision for the project.

I view the Highly Productive Team as the Holy Grail of productivity. At the centerpiece of Highly Productive Teams is workplace collaboration—the act of harnessing the collective intelligence, ingenuity, energy, passion, and creativeness of an organization to result in innovative and successful team effort driven toward achieving a common vision. Highly Productive Teams are inspired organizational efforts that transcend mediocrity and go on to achieve greatness.

Teamwork and collaboration are high on the list of reasons that top-performing companies give for their success. In 1999 at the height of HP’s reign as one of the most successful and innovative companies, it published the Rules of the Garage[1], a framework for innovation. HP’s framework heavily weights teamwork in its list of organizational success factors. Similarly, Google’s Susan Wojcicki’s Eight Pillars for Innovation[2] attributes collaboration within five of her eight pillars.

Do a little research on teamwork and workplace collaboration, and you’ll find a consensus of opinions centered on a close knit work environment promoting regular communication and sharing amongst team members: A team with a high trust quotient, common interests, vesting in the successful outcome of the project, and leadership that is clear on goals, objectives, and vision.

Just a few simple rules that should be easy enough to implement, right? The million dollar question is: “Why do so few teams click, collaborate successfully, and become highly productive, and the bulk of the rest, not so much?”

At Mangrove we pride ourselves on doing more with less, and I attribute our highly productive teams as a big part of the reason why. I wish I could say that every project or endeavor falls into the utopia of the Highly Productive Team, but we’re there more often than when we’re not. So what are we doing specifically at Mangrove to build Highly Productive Teams?

Our leadership model is open, inclusive, passionate, results-oriented, but flexible with deadlines.

  • We paint the big picture and are realistic and forthright with the project objectives.
  • We engage the team to discuss, challenge, contribute, and ultimately be a part of the solution-creation process.
  • We instruct the team on what not to work on, and prioritize the issues that require creative solutions.
  • We communicate flexible target dates, success criteria, and levels of authorities; we never sacrifice innovation, forward momentum, and morale for the sake of meeting short-term deadlines.
  • We are passionate with a singular focus on the delivery of high quality results.
  • We are generous with praise.
  • We size the team with just enough resources to get the job done.
  • We provide adequate time to be efficient with resources as compressed projects tend to get sloppy.
  • We ensure that the entire team has a vested interest in the desired outcomes.
  • We guide collaboration and keep things moving to be sure that collaboration does not go too far where things get bogged down.
  • We promote an experimental philosophy where calculated risk-taking is encouraged and a failed effort is acceptable. We, however, never give in or concede defeat. Obstacles are opportunities and not roadblocks.
  • We help each other be right and not wrong, and we act as though the team is counting on our individual contributions.

Our teams are small, agile, aligned with vested interests, and are given adequate time.

  • We size the team with just enough resources to get the job done.
  • We provide adequate time to be efficient with resources as compressed projects tend to get sloppy.
  • We ensure that the entire team has a vested interest in the desired outcomes.
  • We guide collaboration and keep things moving to be sure that collaboration does not go too far where things get bogged down.
  • We promote an experimental philosophy where calculated risk-taking is encouraged and a failed effort is acceptable. We, however, never give in or concede defeat. Obstacles are opportunities and not roadblocks.
  • We help each other be right and not wrong, and we act as though the team is counting on our individual contributions.

As Mangrove has grown, so has our distributed workforce. We’ve seen firsthand how contributors working in different physical locations and different time zones can slow down collaboration and challenge productivity.

We connect the team with technology.

  • We invest in video conferencing and document sharing capabilities, and now we engage our remote team members equally with our resident team members.
  • We use automated tools to track open items, record resolutions, and communicate progress frequently in terms of project deadlines and milestones.
  • We embrace a regular rhythm of social activities and informal meetings that promote trust and accountability among team members.
  • We encourage the use of social media tools to facilitate information broadcasts, knowledge transfer, recognition, and real-time communication.

Our approach to workplace collaboration is one that instinctively works for us, and it is becoming engrained in our culture as a company. I’ve seen both side of the coin, and there’s no question in my mind that organizations that collaborate earn the right to remain relevant while those that don’t eventually face tough times. In 2001, Apple’s iPod device was a runaway success that challenged Sony’s Walkman product line into obsolescence. Sony was unable to collaborate to counter with a viable iPod-iTunes alternative because of too much internal competition; they instead went to market with two competing products, and both failed.  Apple on the other hand, parlayed its previous iPod success by collaborating and sharing designs from the iPod team with the iPad tablet team, and the iPad became another runaway success.

So the rewards for assembling highly productive teams are obviously great. Getting your team there is a matter of finding the right balance of leadership style, and a having a good, solid framework for collaboration in place.

Leading the horses without having to make them drink

High performing teams are led and not managed. A horse when led to water should drink on its own just as a performing team when led with vision should achieve its stated goals.

Traditional managers are dinosaurs. Today’s younger workforce isn’t responding favorably to old school management techniques. They expect to be constantly informed, engaged in problem solving, recognized, and empowered through a common vision and goals. They just don’t respond to direct orders or micro-management techniques. The newer worker gravitates toward teamwork and collaboration and favors constant communication. That’s not to say that every tool of traditional management is obsolete, but proper leadership is the essential ingredient for a fully engaged modern workforce. Leadership is the bridge to productivity, loyalty, and ownership. Without leadership, you risk a disengaged workforce that is marginally productivity, with high turn-over, and very little commitment to the stated objectives.

Consider the attributes of the old school management philosophy versus those of a leadership model.

Management Model

Leadership Model

Manage: Submissive to one’s authority,   discipline, or persuasion. Lead: Guide, direct, or influence.
Manager: An old-school boss who focuses activities on   tracking, reporting, and controlling their direct reports’ individual   behaviors and contributions. Leader: A visionary who recruits, influences, and   motivates highly-productive, collaborative teams that are focused on   achieving a shared vision and common goals.

It’s been said that you have to be born a leader. I disagree because I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked with a handful of natural leaders and a few who I personally witnessed mature into leadership roles. I have also been privy to a few failed efforts that resulted from a lack of leadership. So, I’ve seen both sides of this coin and benefited greatly from my experience.

There are lots of opinions on what makes a great leader. Some might say it requires eloquent public speaking, great personality, or even good listening skills. It is my opinion those attributes are certainly nice to have but won’t make for a great leader without the following eight qualities of leadership.

1.       Evangelize the vision, and light the fire within, not under them. Be the focal point for the vision. Inspire, motivate, and keep your messaging simple, realistic, and concrete. It is imperative that followers buy-in to the plan and how it will benefit them and the organization.

2.       Is your vision relevant? You should validate your vision periodically for relevancy to your organization, the market opportunity, and customer needs. You don’t want to lead your followers down a dead end or else they won’t easily follow you again. As Yogi Berra best said, “The future ain’t what is used to be.” Be sure to validate that your assumptions haven’t materially changed in a way that requires your vision to be revisited.

3.       Empower, coach and co-create. The focus should be on developing the right behaviors and achieving great results. Lead your followers through the decision process and allow them to arrive at a solution that they have crafted. Resist the temptation to waive your magic wand and just fix it.

4.       Keep your ear to the ground. Assess periodically if you have the necessary buy-in and sponsorship to make the vision a reality.

5.       Walk the talk. Say what you mean, and do what you say. Set a great example and use your behavior to reinforce your vision and the corporate culture that you embody. As a leader your actions are studied often, and your actions can be an opportunity to communicate, inspire, and empower. There is nothing more demotivating to followers than a double standard.

6.       Recognize and celebrate success. With success should come public celebration—it’s not necessary to have blow-out party, but you need to recognize your successes. The thrill of success is contagious. So often, great leaders assign the full credit for success to the team and take personal responsibility when thing go wrong. Never chastise failures, but instead study them for the purpose of not repeating the same mistake again. Avoid assigning fault to individuals as this process is counter-productive and de-motivating to your followers.

7.       Raise the bar. Great organizations constantly improve since maintaining the status quo while your competitors are improving is a recipe for ultimate business failure. What happened to Circuit City, Borders Books, and Blockbuster?Best Buy, Barnes & Noble, and Red Box took market share and forced them out of a leadership position. And great leaders promote high achievement. High achievers expect to be constantly challenged or they become bored and go somewhere more challenging. So either raise the bar, or go the way of Circuit City, Borders Books, or Blockbuster.

8.       Leave go. Lastly and most importantly get the right people involved then inspire them with vision and get out of their way.

Avoiding the “Saashole”

Software-as-a-Service (“SaaS”) is a software delivery model where the product and its associated data are hosted in the cloud, and users gain access to the application via a web browser. In recent years, many business applications including accounting, customer relationship management, enterprise resource planning, and human resource management have moved from on-premise licensed installations to SaaS as a primary delivery method. Gartner Group estimates that SaaS revenues will reach a projected $21.3 billion by 2015.

I should say upfront that I am a big fan of SaaS. Its simplified product and service model yields lower retail costs, improved vendor profitability, and makes customer support more convenient for everybody. Unfortunately this sometimes means that all customers have to be shoe-horned into “the box” of canned functionality. A “one size shoe that fits all” solution may work well for some organizations, but it often doesn’t for all. Organizations that have customization needs or unique integration requirements will find that SaaS is too restrictive for them and in turn may end up in the “Saashole” trap. There are often better choices for these organizations such as hosted or an on-premises license.

Here are my tips for avoiding the “Saashole” trap:

Review service level agreements for reasonable up-time guarantees and response time measures for all major application functions. SaaS applications are cloud-based, meaning a shared infrastructure of web servers, applications servers, and database servers that are accessible via the public internet. SaaS does not offer exclusive use to a single organization so performance can be impacted by what other users are doing at any given time.

Does the vendor support the browser and platform that you desire? Now days SaaS is accessed using a web browser. Are you patient enough for browser-only access? Is your intended use conducive to browser access? Is your internet connection stable and fast enough?

Choose a vendor with a more evolved reporting capability that shields end-users from system complexity. SaaS vendors commonly use a large data repository comingling customer data as this is most efficient and affordable for them. This multi-tenant design requires programming to separate customers logically and adds complexity to data reporting. Techniques like de-normalized database views and metadata layers facilitating intuitive data relationship, grouping, and summaries go a long way to enhancing the productivity of reporting. Ultimately the best approach eliminates all reporting complexity by abstracting the data relationships from the end-user. This yields point-and-click report definitions, grouping, and summaries in the most user-friendly format available.

Make sure the vendor’s “box” of capability is big enough for your needs. A single code base is another key tenant of SaaS. A lot of SaaS providers have application policies to customize look and feel, and in some cases, parts of the customer experience, so that doesn’t necessarily mean that every customer is stuck with the exact same user experience. But it what it does mean is that code customization for the unique needs of a single customer is not supported. Keep in mind that mature products tend to have a bigger “box” of capability that allows more organizations to be easily supported by the product.

Don’t get “Saasholed” into a long-term contract without cancellation options. Yes it is true thatSaaS has a subscription pricing model, but many vendors impose minimum contract terms or early termination penalties. It’s no fun to be pigeon-holed with a contract for a product that is not working well for you. And what if your organization requires change? You must consider your future needs as well.

Don’t overlook your system integration points, data imports, and data exports. In our business of HR, Benefits, and Payroll, getting data in and out of the system in a secure and efficient manner is an essential requirement for our clientele. Employee loads, time imports, carrier feeds, G/L files, and published web service integration points are just a few examples. Does the SaaS solution you are considering meet your integration requirements?

The key to every successful SaaS implementation is matching customer requirements to the capability of the solution. Before making a buying decision, conduct enough due diligence to know if the solution is a good fit for your unique requirements. Like with so many things in life, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. One sure way of avoiding the “Saashole” trap is to try the service before signing a long-term contract.

Are you hunting Purple Squirrels?

The Purple Squirrel is a term used by recruiters to refer to the most elusive of candidates matched to the most difficult of job requirements. A highly sought after and elusive Purple Squirrel candidate possesses the perfect match of education, experience, and qualifications to fit a job’s diverse requirements like a glove;  it is therefore assumed that this prized candidate can immediately assume the job’s responsibility with little or no training and perform with enhanced productivity.

Recruiters dread the “setup-to-fail” Purple Squirrel candidate search because it can be nearly impossible to satisfy a hiring manager’s unrealistic expectations for these job openings. And it is a growing problem. The current buyer’s market for talent has led to hiring managers with expectations that are unreasonably selective where qualified candidates are passed over with the hope of finding more closely matched candidates or even ones with lower compensation needs—a really frustrating no-win situation for the recruiter and the candidate. It is a tragedy that more people aren’t working while so many jobs remain unfilled for months while organizations conduct exhaustive searches for their Cinderella of candidates. This is not an entirely new problem. A few years back I was involved in the sourcing of candidates for a company with many job openings. Our team was excited about the size of the opportunity with this new client but we failed to realize that this client had engaged us in a Purple Squirrel hunt. This client’s expectations were so impossible to meet that after several months of unrewarded efforts we parted ways. When we discussed the situation with the client he mused that a workforce of perfectly matched employees would enable his businesses unit to function with fewer workers and greater productivity.

So why shouldn’t we be incredibly demanding and selective in hiring? What’s wrong with this thinking?

Extended candidate sourcing expenses can exceed the incremental training costs for traditional candidates. Purple Squirrel jobs are so difficult and time consuming to source that the cost-of-hire for a Purple Squirrel can often exceed the incremental training cost for hiring less well-matched candidates. Time is money and wasted time leads to missed opportunities. Wasting excessive amounts of time interviewing and sourcing the Cinderella of candidates can leave your department or organization lagging in productivity or even behind schedule in other areas of the business altogether.

Technical capabilities have overwhelmed your sourcing criteria. If you are recruiting Purple Squirrels you are likely weighing the technical capabilities of your candidates too heavily. Candidates should be evaluated in a balanced manner where qualities such as cultural fit, self-motivation, willingness, adaptability, aptitude to learning, and the ability to work in teams can be just as important to long term job success as a specific degree, certification, and targeted industry experience. Weighing technical qualifications too heavily in the recruiting process can leave you open to turn-over and cultural and morale issues down the road.

You can’t predict the future so don’t paint yourself in the corner by hiring a one trick pony. Markets and organizations change and so do job duties. A better employee is so often the one that can adapt to change, learn new skills, and rise to future challenges.

Been there and done that already. Employees perform best when challenged with growth assignments. The whole concept of a finding a perfectly matched Purple Squirrel candidate is counter to the concept of a growth assignment. Do you want an employee that is willing to settle for a job that really isn’t that challenging, growth-oriented, or provides them with a learning opportunity?

For Pete’s sake…let the stale air out and bring some fresh in. Promoting from other departments or sourcing from outside your industry has real benefits. You gain employees with fresh perspective, access to sources of new talent, and ideas; this in turn creates fertile ground for positive change. Any additional training or startup costs for hiring newbies can be defrayed by lower initial compensation requirements.

Don’t let the parade pass sourcing Purple Squirrels. Here are four recommendations to limit your organizations exposure to the wasted time, effort, and the missed opportunities that accompany Purple Squirrel hunting.

1)      Set a fixed reasonable duration for sourcing candidates for each job opening. Use a talent management system like PeopleGuruTM to define reasonable durations (like 90 days) for sourcing open jobs. Hold HR, recruiters, and hiring managers accountable for executing within these defined time intervals and escalate the recruiting process using workflow notification events at defined points throughout the sourcing window.

2)      Encourage hiring diversity, equality, and balanced candidate evaluations by defining corporate-level hiring standards such as cultural and physiological evaluations along with job specific evaluation criteria; enforce these standards via automated online questionnaires and ratings with assigned balanced scoring and knock-out criteria ensuring that the job-specific requirements do not overwhelm the candidate sourcing process. This has an added benefit insomuch as it ensures that candidates are evaluated in the same manner and judged using the same criteria.

3)      Engage internal candidates first. Release new job openings to employees via employee self-service for at least two weeks prior to accepting outside candidates. This will ensure that your internal candidates get priority consideration and foster a culture of achievement.

4)      Track cost of hire accurately. To accurately track costs of hire you have to consider all recruiting costs including internal and external costs. Use your HR or recruiting system to assign costs to each phase of the recruiting process and not just the external costs. Track internal costs by allocating expenses and overhead to the internal resources consumed in addition to external costs. Only this approach will provide a true picture of your total cost of hiring for each job opening.

Purple Squirrels may sound adorable and harmless; I assure you they are not. For job seekers and recruiters alike it’s a growing nightmare of unfilled jobs waiting for a dream Cinderella candidate that really doesn’t exist.

Why I want Zebras for customers, and not just because…

Zebras are majestic, unique, and beautiful.

The software-as-a-service industry caters products and services to the bell curve of customer requirements—our industry calls this vanilla service model of product and service capabilities “the box.” Little emphasis or focus is placed on handling the out-of-the-box situations or unique customer service requirements because a limited service model is much easier to develop, implement, and support. A simplified product and service model with an assembly-line support infrastructure yields improved profitability and lower costs, right? This of course means that all customers have to be shoe-horned into “the box.” This “one size shoe that fits all” mentality may work for some organizations, but it doesn’t work for all because this is often the reason organizations contact my company—PeopleGuru. At PeopleGuru, we’ve affectionately nicknamed these unique organizations “Zebras.”

A Zebra’s stripes are as unique as fingerprints, and no two are exactly alike.

So what makes an organization a Zebra? We define a Zebra as a client that requires more flexibility in their benefit administration, payroll, time and labor, and/or HR product and service model. Often these organizations have unique policies or procedures that are of cultural significance and provide a unique competitive advantage—policies and procedures that these organizations firmly believe are worth preserving. Zebras are often forced to resort to labor intensive manual administration of their unique needs outside of their core systems. Organizations like a 1,000 employee health insurer with a generous but unique 401K company match eligibility requirement that is subject to an annual look-back of earnings and hours paid. This same organization has a paid time off accrual policy with more complexity than is the industry norm and an online benefit enrollment process with tons of employee choice. Or a beach resort that employs 900 who when facing a serious compliance dilemma and substantial wage and hour fine, engaged PeopleGuru to preserve their long standing practice of assigning wait staff to both the banquet and the restaurant during the same shift. Another is a 750 employee home improvement contractor that records hours and jobs in the field and feeds this data real-time to an in-house system.

All Zebras have two things in common; they choose to be Zebras, and they take great offense to being treated like they aren’t.

Zebras have excellent senses; they can even see at night and in color.

It’s my opinion that our Zebras are more industry savvy and competitive. They don’t swim upstream or create policies to be difficult. They see opportunity where others miss it, and they operate their business with a unique competitive advantage because of it. Yes, it is true that Zebras really take advantage of PeopleGuru’s unique product and service capabilities, and we love each other because of it. And we are always welcoming new Zebra clients.

Of course, you don’t have to be a Zebra to be a PeopleGuru customer, since we literally serve thousands of organizations that aren’t. Then again, you may find peace of mind knowing you can show your Zebra stripes in the future if you ever need to.

How to keep a Customer when things go wrong.

Remember how hard it was to score that customer, right? What do you do when Murphy’s Law kicks in and you now have an unhappy, or even furious, customer on your hands? How do you retain them?

Most people recognize that mistakes happen and things can and will go wrong. Your company will be judged most critically on your ability and finesse in managing these challenging situations.

Empower your customer-facing associates to follow these five simple rules, and I believe that you will find good success in turning the unhappy customer into a loyal advocate.

  1. Communicate often, maybe hourly depending on the nature of the issue. Answer and return calls promptly. Be patient and listen to them vent. The customer will often provide you with valuable clues on how they expect you to resolve the situation. Acknowledge your mistake (only if you made one), apologize sincerely for their trouble, and steer the conversation toward the plan to get their issues resolved.
  2. Only make promises that you are sure you can keep. The client is already upset, so it’s not the time to add fuel to their fire. Empathize, and don’t over promise. If you are not sure of a fix timeline, then don’t provide one with certainty. If it is an involved process to resolve their issues, then take extra time and precautions to fix it properly the first time. While you are working diligently on the resolution, always refer back to Rule Number 1.
  3. Cut out the red tape internally to avoid additional inconvenience for the customer. Be your customer’s advocate internally. Good news travels fast, and bad news travel faster. In the age of social media, industry forums, and complaint advocacy websites, even the smallest of customer issues can put your company and your personal reputation at risk for bad publicity. Enlist help from your supervisors, other departments, and co-workers and make a good case for why this customer takes priority over current work.  Avoid solutions where the customer incurs extra work or additional charges.
  4. Do something for the customer’s trouble. The accommodation doesn’t have to be extravagant or excessive. Most often your customer will feel better if you simply recognize their inconvenience. It is always reasonable to credit charges for ineffective products or services, but often a small denomination gift card is more personal, powerful, and effective.
  5. Follow-up. A few days after the dust settles, follow-up with an email and a phone call. These follow-up communications are needed to reinforce your commitment to service and will help to strengthen your customer’s perception of their value to your firm. The intention is to a convey these few things in this email and phone call:
    • A sincere apology and the accommodation provided if a credit was issued. Personal gift cards should be handled in a separate communication.
    • An explanation of what went wrong, how the issue was resolved, and why it won’t happen again in the future.
    • Thanks for their patience, trust, and continued patronage.

So you think you want to go with my competition? Why I could say I told you so, but won’t…

Their lower price is not what it seems.

The old expressions are true that “there’s always a catch,” and “a low price usually equals inferior products or service.” In our business of Benefits Administration, HR, and Payroll software services, new customers come to us for a variety of reasons. The number one reason is frustration with service. We see clients that are just tired of painful and inferior help desk support, and sometimes others have more tenuous and complex system difficulties, and even some face significant compliance penalties.

Getting service is like finding Waldo.

Our competition has become data-processing-centric with service as an afterthought. And while the data processing aspects of the Benefits Administration, HR, and Payroll software services business are vital, I don’t believe that it is reasonable to expect our customers to be experts in our business. We see it as our job to be there to guide our clientele through the process of getting the most of our service and product capabilities. How many times a month or a year do you make a change to a Paid Time Off policy or 401K match algorithm? I’m sure that for you it will not be that often, but, for us, we see these things every day. Our service model encourages our customers to engage us to assist in these types of events for your convenience. In our model, you can help yourself or be helped—either way is fine by us.

Don’t get sold a billed of goods: Implementation, schmimplementation.

We’ve been doing this for fifteen years. Our sales process engages our prospect to include enough information to understand our prospect’s needs. We generally skip the boring PowerPoint®, and limit ourselves to five minutes on “where we came from,”“who we are,” “what we stand for,” and “where we are going.” We spend adequate time justifying the project and defining project success criteria upfront. We follow-up our sales process with a client onboarding team that continues and validates the initial due diligence and works toward the orderly achievement of the defined project success milestones. We do focus on education so our clientele can get the most of our systems and services. And finally our systems and service are flexible and scalable so you are never painted in a corner or outgrow its capabilities.

System conversions are expensive and time consuming—don’t make the wrong choice. Of course it’s nice to see a prospect return to us after few months with our competitor, but I hate the fact that time and money were wasted in the process.

They won’t love you as much as we do.

I know this sounds corny, but it’s true. We bend over backward for our clientele. Your account manager is and will be knowledgeable and accessible because your account manager won’t be overloaded with too many clients—by design. In fact, client retention is a major part of their compensation structure. It is their job to keep you happy and retained. We strive to keep our employees’ interests aligned with our customers.

We are mature, reliable, and user friendly.

This is a business where focus, experience, and maturity counts. Is our competitor really worthy of your business? With fifteen years of singular focus in the Human Capital space, we know this business and can serve your needs in this area. Our systems are state-of-the-art, easy-to-use, and accurate. They work well for thousands of clients all over the USA. We manage all things compliance related in-house—it’s too important to leave to a third-party processor. We are not perfect, and I’d be skeptical of any firm that tells you that they are. We fix our mistakes, stand behind our company, and provide real service guarantees.

Terminations with poise and grace

So you find yourself in the unfortunate position of being the bearer of bad news. Here are a few things that I have found will make the whole experience of terminating someone a lot easier for all those involved.

Don’t make it personal. Simply state the facts and leave out additional narratives. Explanations like:  “Your position has been eliminated due to a restructuring” or “You failed to meet the objectives of your performance improvement plan” are reasons enough for this final conversation. The focus of your discussion should be on turnover of work and post-termination benefits. Avoid promises to provide personal references or future job opportunities to non-performing terminated employees. Save your favors for the people who deserve them.

Be private, nice, and sincere. Find a private and quiet place to conduct the termination and check your anger and frustration at the door. It’s too late to save the employee’s job so criticizing their past performance isn’t going to help your cause or be constructive in any way. Try to find a sincere way to thank the employee for their contributions and efforts. You can empathize with the employee’s situation but steer clear of offering advice on what they should do next.

Don’t rub salt in an open wound.  Termination compensation can sometimes be a complicated affair. Is there accrued and unused vacation, unexercised stock options, or unpaid overtime? Provide the employee with instructions on contacting the company after termination and allow the employee to challenge your computations. Document your decisions regarding claims for additional compensation. This is one place that being the Grinch can really come back to haunt you. Err on the side of caution and pay the employee everything due to them at termination or shortly thereafter. Lawsuits are expensive so providing the employee a reason to file one is not wise. When necessary, take extra time to explain to the employee how their termination benefits are calculated and obtain their agreement of your math thereof.

Save the termination interview questions for a much later date. Time heals all wounds so give the employee a few weeks to cool down before asking for feedback.

Save the security guards for reality TV shows. It’s generally a good practice to escort the employee out quietly. If handled properly, terminations rarely get out of hand so having menacing security presence is only going to make you look weak and insecure.

Document everything beforehand and prepare for the worst. Make sure you have your ducks in a row before you pull the trigger. You can use the following points as suggestions for your future termination events.

  1. Employee File. Is the employee’s file updated with all the necessary documentation regarding events leading up to and including the termination? Has the file been reviewed by HR and legal?
  2. Notification. Are you prepared regarding coworker and customer notifications? Has your IT department been notified to disable login accounts, remote access and to safeguard and protect intellectual property? Have you planned for how incoming email and phone calls will be handled?
  3. Company Property. What keys, badges, or company assets are in the employee’s possession? Don’t forget about customer lists, billing records, and other company information that the employee may have.
  4. Post Termination Expectations. Do you have a separation agreement prepared? Is the employee subject to non-compete or non-solicitation for a period? You should cover these and your expectations of the employee post termination.
  5. Comply with Special Termination Laws. You may have a requirement to coordinate COBRA benefits at a State or Federal level or pay the employee their final paycheck upon termination. Compliance penalties are expensive and time consuming so outsourcing these activities is often the best solution for most companies.

Use these few simple suggestions effectively for your next termination to reduce uncertainty, anxiety, and liability and to increase your confidence during these unpleasant but necessary duties of a being manager. Your company and former employee will appreciate your handling of the most difficult of situations with poise and grace.