Breaking difficult news

One of the most unpleasant tasks of leadership is letting people go. Even when it’s in the best interests of the company, you may still feel guilty, particularly when it’s a redundancy. So how should you prepare for, and deliver the news, and what else should you take into consideration?

Nobody got promoted because their strength was firing people well. However, reputations can be damaged if people aren’t treated in a dignified way.   You are very much in the spotlight when firing people, particularly redundancies, and your leadership shadow is cast wide as people watch for fallout, and to see how you communicate difficult messages with wider communities. A company’s reputation and your personal brand can be helped or hindered during these times.

Preparing and delivering the news

Remember it’s not about you. Many people get nervous and anxious about delivering this news and tend to focus on themselves, rather than the person who will receive the news. Reactions are unknown, but can range from anger, shock, grief, guilt to relief and acceptance- all of which require a skilled emotional response in leaders.

Plan well

  • Prepare for the questions you’d like to know the answers to, if you were in the other seat.
  • Plan what you will say to those left behind. Immediately news will get out that someone has been made redundant, people start wondering what that means for them. Have your wider communication plan prepared.

The conversation

  • Break the news in the first sentence. Be crystal clear about why you are doing this and be prepared to share even if it seems obvious.
  • Don’t go it alone. Legally and practically deliver news with another person in the room, ideally your HR partner. Practice what you are going to say and don‘t shy away from delivering the news yourself.
  • Keep to the point, avoid being side-tracked.
  • Follow up – agree a time to follow up, even if they don’t want to. Just to make sure you cover any outstanding issues and to check in how they are. They may say nothing in the meeting as they may experience an emotional hijack, so give space to digest and return.

Bungled terminations usually stem from a lack of preparation, confidence, or acting without thinking. A small amount of preparation goes a long way in maintaining your leadership reputation and your employer brand, as well as the self-esteem of the person losing their job.