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When time for termination comes

Rick Machen and Tylor Braden for Progressive Cattle Published on 24 March 2020

This is the final article in a five-part series on management.

This series on managing ranch employees has covered essential managerial skills – recruiting, supervising, retaining and evaluating employees.

If these skills and responsibilities are executed well, the topic of this article is seldom a concern. However, if you manage long enough, the always-uncomfortable termination of an employee for performance-related reasons will likely arise.

Fairness and impartiality are essential elements. Establishing a productive culture and high standards and expectations goes well beyond recruiting and retaining high-performing employees. It is essential to remove unproductive employees who refuse to meet clearly communicated expectations. Fairness applies to both the departing employee, remaining work force and stakeholders.

Terminations are often among the most unsettling experiences managers face. However, if management has fulfilled their responsibilities as leaders; is making the right decision for the right reason; and can assure themselves they have been, and are being, fair, then a termination should not be an anxiety-inducing experience but rather a brief, direct and calm conversation.

Review. As the need for a termination becomes apparent, management should review the employee’s tenure by answering these questions:

  • Were job expectations clearly defined and continually reinforced? This is a pillar of great leadership. Management must diligently invest the time to ensure employees clearly understand expectations, which are rarely fully understood with a single conversation. (Recall the importance of a well-written job description.)

  • Were the necessary tools, resources and training or coaching provided, and is management’s expectations of “necessary” realistic?

  • Was an environment provided that was conducive to employees fulfilling expectations and achieving their full potential?

  • Are all employees consistently held accountable for meeting expectations? If employees are not consistently held accountable, it creates “drifting expectations,” which is unfair to employees.

  • Has management prevented the employee in anyway from meeting expectations?

Positive answers to these questions will help managers placate the emotions that often accompany the employee-termination process.

Once these principles (expectations; tools and training; environment; accountability) have been executed, the personnel issue involves either attitude or capacity. If capacity is the limiting factor, expectations of the employee should be readjusted. If attitude is limiting performance, consider clearly communicating expectations for attitude. Provide coaching and/or training, and reconfirm that the culture created by management expects excellence, and the person is surrounded by capable, proficient and dedicated teammates.

Assuming all responsibilities have been executed and termination of an employee is imminent, here are six “Nevers” worth remembering:

1. Never fire an employee over the phone, via text or an email. Terminations should always be done face-to-face and led by the immediate supervisor.

2. Never fire an employee in front of co-workers.

3. Never fire an employee in the heat of a moment or conflict.

4. Never argue details of, or rehash, the past.

5. Never should termination come as a surprise to the employee. If it does, management has failed to coach, train and reiterate expectations.

6. Never reduce compensation, increase responsibilities or reassign an employee and hope he or she will resign. Once the need for a termination is obvious, do not wait and hope the situation will improve. It seldom does. According to management consultant Dick Grote: “It’s not the people you fire that make life miserable. It’s the ones you should have but didn’t.”

In the unfortunate event a long-term employee must be terminated for reasons other than job performance, consider offering them the option to respectfully resign. If they so choose, secure a letter of resignation from the departing employee.

When the necessity of termination is evident, the following are some suggestions for navigating the process.

Document the process. In a litigious society, it is wise to document the process, beginning with identification of a performance-related concern. Keep notes from meetings with the employee wherein the concern was described, actions for improvement were identified (including support from management), as well as delineation of consequences should improvement not transpire.

Develop a checklist. Termination meetings are often emotional, and it is important to stay on task. A checklist will help keep the manager focused, ensure all the important points are covered and can serve as documentation of exactly what was said during the meeting. Have a parallel document for the employee to sign acknowledging (not necessarily assenting to) the information that was discussed.

Termination meeting. Be well prepared for this face-to-face meeting. Think about timing; management consultants suggest early in the week (to avoid fretting and stewing over the weekend) and late in the day (as co-workers are leaving).

Consider having a witness. A human resources (HR) representative is the logical choice. If the ranch does not have HR personnel, consider involving the ranch owner or upper management.

Be brief and to the point. Speak calmly but with confidence and authority. Leave no doubt about the termination. Speak of the termination using past tense verbs (i.e., has been).

Provide the final paycheck, address COBRA options, ask for a forwarding address and collect keys and other company equipment the same day.

Housing and a ranch vehicle are often provided. Consult state eviction laws to determine the minimum time required for vacating ranch-provided housing; thirty days is a commonly allowed time.

If possible, close the conversation on a positive note.

Be prepared for backlash from the terminated employee, especially via social media.

Communication with employees. News of a termination will spread very quickly, across the ranch and within the community. As soon as possible after a termination, communicate with remaining employees to minimize gossip and calm any potential fear of further terminations. (Termination for performance-related reasons will likely not surprise co-workers.)

Be professional and respectful of the terminated employee. A lengthy explanation is not warranted. Simply state, “______ no longer works here.” Describe the transition plan, complete with how duties of the vacant position will be accomplished. Identify to whom any questions should be addressed.

No one prescription fits every ranch personnel management scenario. The focus here has been termination for performance-related reasons. Dishonesty, substance abuse, unethical conduct or a criminal offense are other obvious, and perhaps more blatant, causes for termination.

Great managers recruit and develop driven, disciplined and proficient employees. Not only do great managers hire well, they also fire well. In the unfortunate scenario where an employee chooses not to meet performance expectations, termination is requisite.

Retaining poor performers is not fair to the other team members. Too often, managers focus on the terminated employee and neglect the employees who are performing well and may be dealing with similar challenges.

People management is frequently listed as the number one challenge faced by ranch (and other business) managers. Good employees are in great demand and enjoy the convenience of choosing where and for whom they work. Management’s responsibility is to create a culture and environment that is attractive, then lead and help employees develop to their full potential.

As acknowledged throughout this series, no two ranches, scenarios or employees are the same. In that regard, consider this quote by Jim Rohn: “A good objective for leadership is to help those who are doing poorly to do well and to help those who are doing well to do even better.”  end mark

Getty Images.

Tylor Braden is the area manager of cattle operations at King Ranch Inc.

Part 1: When those your supervise are your senior

Part 2: Ranch employees - Recrutiting the right kind

Part 3: Retaining talented employees

Part 4: Evaluating employee performance

Download the Progressive Cattle podcast this month as Rick Machen shares more on the five-part series on management. 

Rick Machen
  • Rick Machen

  • Professor and Paul Genho Endowed Chair
  • King Ranch Institute for Ranch Management
  • Texas A & M University – Kingsville
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