How to Fire a Staff Member

Last week I told an all too familiar story of the benevolent instructor who pretty much raises a kid in his school who seems to turn his life around as a result.

I pointed out that the student wasn’t the only liability. The instructors reluctance to release the student out of concern for his well-being made him as culpable as the student for any damage done to the school.
That message clearly hit home. Here is a sample message I received.

The Benevolent Instructor:
I just want to say how close to home you hit with that last e-mail you sent out the other day.  I have recently found myself being the benevolent instructor and let an employee damage my business, health, stress level, and family conversations for far too long.

This employee was finally released and it marked the first time I have ever had to let someone go.  She was a good person but no longer a good fit for our business.  It was really, really hard and I found myself nearly in tears once it was over.

Thank you for timing the release of that post at a time when it really helped me to finalize those feelings and be able to move on.  Thank you.

Name Withheld

Before we get into story 2 of 3 on this topic, I want to share with you the best phraseology that I’ve learned to use when letting someone go. My multiple schools had at least a half-dozen employees and running NAPMA had as many as 25 employees with some making over $200k per year.

It’s important to document all of your meetings with the employee to make sure you are building your case for termination. However, I will leave that to the HR experts and not play labor attorney.

My only advice is that when you have that final meeting and have protected yourself from lawsuits relating to discrimination, harassment, etc… you be very careful in what you say and how you say it.

In my experience, my best line has been, “Sally, as you know, we’ve been giving this the best chance we could have. You’re a good person, and you will do well, but I think we both know that this job is just not a good fit for you. It’s best we bring this to an end.”

Typically, I’d give them two weeks pay and change the door locks, website passwords, etc…. As part of the process of receiving the two weeks pay, they would have to sign a release of liability that basically says they will not sue the school or any employee from that moment on.

Firing an employee for a martial arts school owner is often more difficult than most businesses because there is often a stronger emotional history / baggage attached with the process than the local 7/11 or health club.

Next week, story two of how an owner can become a liability for his or her school.

MATA Professional Code of Ethics

As a MATA-certified Professional, I agree to live by the Martial Arts Teachers’ Association Principles of Professional Conduct. Whenever I work with students, the public, other martial artists or fitness professionals, I agree to:

1. Provide a safe atmosphere.

2. Give effective instructions.

3. Treat all clients on an equal and fair basis.

4. Constantly update myself on every aspect of health and physical activity research.

5. Carefully study this research so that I comprehend it and can put it to practical use.

6. Become CPR certified and maintain this certification.

7. Have a good knowledge of first aid.

8. Know and comply with all city, state and federal laws applicable to my business.

9. Fully understand and comply with all Employment and copyright laws

10. Constantly attempt to educate the public on the benefits of the martial arts and fitness industries.

Keep all clients’ information confidential.

Without hesitation, when deemed necessary, refer students to someone who is better qualified to meet their needs in the medical, fitness or health professions

A Good Instructor Doesn’t Always Make a Good Manager

While an instructor may run a class with stern discipline that doesn’t always translate well when that instructor puts on his management hat. The job of the owner/manager is not to be a dictator, but to tell people how they’re doing, what they’re doing, give encouragement, and give guidance.  At participative meetings, you hand out assignments, you discuss work in progress, you re-assign work to each person, here’s what the others are doing and the staff discusses everything.  In motivation, we only become committed to something to the degree to which we are allowed to discuss it.  We only become involved and loyal and excited about any task to the degree to which we can contribute our opinions and our ideas.  So the more discussion you have over the work, the objectives, the goals and how to accomplish them, the more discussion you have, the more commitment, the more loyalty, the more excitement, the more enthusiasm your staff will have.  

Commitment to quality performance is a key factor.  Quality performance can never be produced without some kind of emotional commitment.  Emotion and quality work are only achieved through involvement.  People only get excited enough, determined, and committed enough to work and take things to the final step where they do excellent work when they get a chance to participate in setting goals, setting standards, taking feedback, discussing with other people and so on.  Discussion has a one to one relationship to motivation.  If you want your people to be motivated, have high self esteem, be positive, and be committed, then they need an opportunity to talk about what they are doing.  And more than that, good people will not tolerate a work environment where they are not involved in their work.

We are going to talk about the three R’s and the four factors of motivation.  The first is leadership style.  This is a key factor in determining how motivated people are within the team.  Sometimes just changing the leader changes the whole performance of the school.  

The second is the reward structure within the school.  In other words, what are the incentives for excellent performance?  

The third is the organizational climate.  In other words is it a happy place to work or is it a negative place to work?  Is it a performance oriented place or a politically oriented place?  

The fourth is, work in the school has to be inherently motivational instead of inherently depressing, so those are the four keys.  By the way, good schools are always trying to structure the work so that the nature of the work fits the nature of the person, and the two of them combine for high self esteem and peak performance.  For example, they match the instructors who work well with children with the appropriate classes. Conversely, they keep those who are more suited for adult classes in those classes as well. 

The reward structure, the organizational climate, and the nature of the work can be changed slowly and have to be thought through, but leadership style is the thing that can be changed the fastest.  In other words, you can go from being negative to being positive, and as a positive leader you suddenly become a multiplying factor in work.  Now the three R’s for motivation are rewards, and rewards must be based on performance.  The only way for a reward structure to work, in helping the school to be successful is that it must be related to performance.  You must not reward anything else, not rank, not seniority, not longevity, not education, not anything but just performance.  

Recognition is something that managers owe to their people and one of the greatest complaints in the world of work is not being recognized for good work.  Whenever a person does something that is good, something that is exceptional or even makes a good try, give them recognition, give them public recognition and number three re-enforcement, remember what we know from behavioral psychology is what gets re-enforced, gets done again.  So every single time that you give praise, privately and publicly for any behavior, you know you’re going to get more of it.  If you don’t praise and re-enforce good work behavior and quality work you’re going to get less of it.  Whatever you want more of, you reward, recognize and re-enforce.  Successful schools create environments, where the only way that you can get ahead, is by achieving the recognition in the areas that contribute to the school’s goals.  

Management by values is the next concept.  I think this is really important.  What it simply says is that, the deepest of all human needs, right at the core of the self concept is the need for meaning and purpose.  And meaning and purpose always arise out of the value structure of the individual.  So that’s why it is so important for you as a school owner to convey over and over again, what the values of the school are.  What you believe in and the higher the values of the school, quality, friendliness, service, respect for the individual, building self esteem, training and growing people, whatever your values are, those are the values that stimulate, trigger, motivate and inspire people.  But don’t assume that people know what the values are.  Its important that you as the school owner continually re-enforce the values in action.  That means when somebody’s having a problem, that’s where you demonstrate what the values are.  When you have to deal with a difficult student, that’s where you demonstrate what your values are.  When you deal with somebody who is being unfair or demanding, that’s how you demonstrate what the school really stands for.