Trick Or Treat Training (Or How to Train for Terminations)

by Evil HR Lady on October 30, 2007

My first love is training. So, last night I developed and conducted some Trick or Treating Training. (For those of you who are rolling their eyes right now, rest assured that my husband rolled his eyes as well.) But, the Offspring is 4, and quite frankly knowing how to trick or treat is not inborn. So, here is what we did.

1. Explain the base rules: No trick or treating by yourself. You must wait for Dad to come home from work.

2. Explain the steps: Knock or ring door bell, wait until door opens, say “Trick or Treat!”, take one piece of candy if offered, otherwise accept whatever is placed in your bag, say thank you, turn and leave.

3. Practice, practice, practice. You would think this would have been unnecessary, but there are many, many steps and different ones were forgotten.

4. Throw in some variation. “What a beautiful costume! Are you Cinderella?” This threw the offspring through a loop and we had to tell her it was okay to say “No, I’m Princess Presto.

Easy enough, right? I’m a crack pot for making my child practice trick-or-treating. After all, it’s a basic skill and she could have picked it up by watching other children. And she went trick or treating last year–so what if it’s been 364 days since her last trip around the neighborhood. Right? Right?

Why am I writing this? Replace trick-or-treating with “termination” training. It’s not done regularly but for some reason HR tends to assume that because you terminated someone a year ago, you can do it again today without any additional help.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Whenever you terminate someone from your company–whether it’s a layoff or a termination for cause–how the message is delivered can make a huge difference in how the employee responds and in the likelihood that a law suit will follow.

Here are some basic steps for training managers to conduct terminations. Surprisingly enough, the steps are similar to Trick or Treating.

1. Explain the base rules. Always have your i’s dotted and t’s crossed before you sit down. Have approval to the highest level necessary. Never do it by yourself. Always have a witness in the room. (Preferably HR, but another manager will do.) Understand your clear message. (This is a termination for cause, or this is a layoff–you’d be surprised how managers don’t realize there is as huge difference between these two.)

2. Explain the steps. Clear your calendar, have your witness in the office, invite the employee into your office, (If you don’t have an office, reserve a conference room where you can close the door. NO TERMINATIONS IN CUBES.) explain briefly and directly that the employee is being terminated. Do not hem and haw and do not leave any room for doubt. If appropriate, thank him for his service. Give any necessary paperwork to the employee. Tell employee he can go home for the rest of the day and can come back tomorrow for his things. Briefly answer questions, but keep meeting to 15 minutes or less.

3. Practice, practice, practice. Again, you would think this would be unnecessary–managers are smart and they can read a script. You’ve explained, let them go at it. But, this is wrong. Have you ever sat in a termination where your manager has stumbled so badly on the message that the poor employee thought he was being transferred to a new job? I have. It makes the termination even more painful.

4. Throw in some variation. How do you respond if the employee starts to cry? What if they start to scream? What if they run out of the office, hysterical? What if they threaten to sue? What if the employee argues that the company won’t be able to survive without him and that you’re a fool and furthermore, he’ll go to Sr. VP and get his job reinstated?

Conducting terminations is scary. Don’t make it worse by throwing the manager out there to “pick it up” by doing it a few times. Offer training and support.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike Doughty October 30, 2007 at 1:29 pm

Your advice is absolutely correct, of course.

A couple additional thoughts:

HR people sometimes forget that many managers go through their entire careers without having to fire (for cause) a single person. For the rest, it’s a very infrequent thing. Therefore, managers are understandably anxious about doing one. It’s best to go over, several times, in detail, exactly what’s to be said and done in the actual termination meeting. An outline for them to use is helpful. I recommend that “for cause” terminations be done at the end of the day in the HR conference room, and that the person be escorted to their work area to collect their belongings, after most other employees are gone. I think it’s better not to have a discharged employee back the next day; it has the potential for disruptions of various kinds. Also, try to have the final check ready (in some states you must do this) for the person, so there’s no need to pick it up later. In some cases, depending on the person’s history and circumstances, have security standing by in a nearby office. I’ve found that this often makes the manager feel better when an employee who has a belligerent attitude is involved. I’ve never had to actually use them, but you never know.
Layoffs can be handled differently, in my experience, as the communication regarding them is usually done somewhat in advance in the companies I’ve worked for.

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Evil HR Lady October 30, 2007 at 1:52 pm

Terminations for cause are very different from layoffs, and each deserves their own post.

I do prefer to allow the person to leave immediately and come back tomorrow for their stuff. However, I would never stop someone from getting their belongings immediately and never coming back, if that is their preferance.

We always have security on standby. Almost everybody takes the news quite well, but once in a great while someone who you wouldn’t suspect flips out.

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class-factotum October 30, 2007 at 3:29 pm

I probably should not have handled my layoff as nicely as I did. My boss gave me three months’ notice that my job was being eliminated. So what did I do? Started working late every night so I could make sure as much of my project was done as possible. My sister called me at work one night and asked why I was still there. “Because I have to finish this,” I told her.

She told me I was an idiot and I should be spending the time looking for a new job.

She was right.

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Evil HR Lady October 30, 2007 at 3:49 pm

class-factotum

Yes, devote yourself to the job hunt. But, by working your tail end off, you increase your chances of getting a great reference and possibly being rehired.

I prefer to give severance instead of notice, so that people can immediately start looking for a new job. (Keep in mind that except in a few situations, neither is required by law.)

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Ask a Manager October 30, 2007 at 10:41 pm

Excellent advice. Going over all the possible scenarios — “if he says this, I’ll handle it this way” — is really helpful. I’m surprised by how many people are allowed to go into firings unprepared!

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Philippine October 31, 2007 at 7:15 am

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Anonymous October 31, 2007 at 4:30 pm

How much info is too much? Should you provide the reasons for not rehiring a former intern.

I hire seasonal employees, mostly college undergrads or recent graduates. During the course of the summer we provide 1 on 1 midterm evaluations and at the end of the summer the manager submits a final eval and rehire recommendation. Most we would gladly have back and usually the ones who weren’t very good don’t bother to reapply.
An intern has repplied but was denied based on a very poor eval by her manager. She has followed up with a less than professional note inditing many of her colleagues…should i tell her that in all 5 categories she was rated as needing improvement or is that too much info.

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The Happy Employee October 31, 2007 at 10:11 pm

For HR professionals, I also recommend to have a quick chat with the manager just before the termination meeting and to check up on him afterwards. Being fired can be traumatic, but having to terminate somebody isn’t exactly a walk in the park either.

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DementedM December 17, 2007 at 10:44 pm

YES! Great advice! Wish I’d seen this earlier.

M

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Anonymous October 23, 2008 at 6:08 pm

This is a year late, but I thought I might mention it…

There is more one can do with the Halloween training. My children are eating their carrots (to improve night vision), getting some exercise (for trick-or-treating stamina), and resisting bedtime less (to “stock up on sleep” for the Big Night).

Warning: Employees are perhaps less … amenable … to these methods, so there’s not really a lot of crossover to terminating an employee.

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