I remember being fired for “philosophical differences.” It was an ugly time for me and my family. It wasn’t about my performance, I was told, they just wanted to “go in a different direction.”

Just a few months earlier, everything had been great. Our company was performing at a high level — one of the highest rated in the country — and the future looked bright.

I had been offered a bigger position with a dramatic salary increase in a bigger city. My employer told me they didn’t want me to leave, so they drew up a new employment contract with a significant pay increase. I signed it and life was good.

Then, the guy running the place left and a new guy was brought in. So… months into this new, multi-year contract, the new guy pulled the trigger. Shocked would be an understatement.

In my case, the final insult was that I was offered far, far less than what the company was contractually obligated to provide. It could have been much easier for everybody if they had just been up front about it.

It was 20 years ago and it still stings as I write this.

What bothered me wasn’t that they were letting me go, it was the disingenuous of it all. If they would have just said…hey I want to bring in my own guy, but we will live up to our contractual agreement with you, I wouldn’t have been happy, but I would have understood.

Instead, I had to hire a lawyer and fight with the employer I had poured my soul into for years. It left me feeling raw.

I remember that feeling every time I have to get into a firing situation. I try hard to give people as much dignity and respect as possible and be honest with them. It’s not easy for anyone, but my life goes on. Their life changes.

In 30 years of doing business, here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Once the decision is made, move forward. Waiting just makes it worse and it’s not fair to the person.
  • Practice what you’re going to say. It’s disrespectful to stumble through your discussion.
  • Don’t dance around it. Don’t drag it out. Be upfront and honest.
  • I tell people immediately that today will be their last day with the company. Let them know up front the decision has been made and there’s no turning back.
  • Put everything in writing. Not only is it good business practice, but they’ll likely not remember what’s been said. Hearing you are out of a job is shocking — even if you see it coming — and a lot of people are in a kind of daze after that.
  • Make sure you have the right information. Don’t be guessing about their benefits, pay dates, final check, severance agreements, etc. Have the material in hand and know your stuff.
  • Unless there’s real worry about violence or theft, let them leave with dignity. I typically tell them to consider leaving now and then we can meet up later, or they an come back to collect their stuff. Making them box up their stuff in front of the rest of the team is just demeaning.
  • Realize that how you treat that departing employee impacts all of your current (and future potential) employees. Chance are unless the person is a complete disaster, he/she has friends there.

And for goodness sake, never tell people you’re firing that “they’ve graduated.”