HR Management

Put These Words into Your Managers’ Mouths

In critical HR discussions with employees, some of your managers will do best working from a script.

When it comes to HR-related actions, do your line managers suffer from “wingtip in mouth disease?”

You know the symptoms: They over-promise or ask inappropriate or even illegal questions during job interviews. Their performance appraisal meetings with employees are full of vague and personal comments. Their disciplinary actions are emotionally delivered. And if they need to terminate an employee, who knows what they may say in the termination meeting that might lead to a lawsuit later.

In such situations, it’s often best to “put words into their mouths” – to offer actual scripting for moments rife with potential organizational and legal dangers.

To find some of those words, we looked to BLR’s QuikStep Guides for Busy Managers, a series of four books designed to provide “learn it in an hour or less” guidance for managers on HR topics. Here are some of the lines we found.


To avoid yes/no answers and get a candidate to speak in detail about past experience, use these questions:

–Tell me about your work as a ________.

–What did you actually do most of the time?

–What will your boss say about ____ if I call, asking for a reference?

–What were the challenges, successes, failures?

–What results were obtained from these efforts?

Performance Appraisal:

To make appraisals meet the “3 m’s” standard, (meaningful, measurable, and mutual,) and to avoid vague statements such as “Jane will do a better job,” use this type of fact-filled, data-dependent language.

–Will increase production of _____ by 10 percent, given a budget increase of 6 percent

–Will evaluate production and restructure to achieve a 3-day reduction in order-ship time

–Will bring average truckloads per month to 229


To keep disciplinary meetings focused on the realities of the situation, The QuikStep Discipline guide recommends this language:

–We have a problem here. This is the problem: ______________________________

–You can solve the problem by doing this, ___________ and I want to help you solve it by offering this help: _____________________________________________________

–If we can’t solve the problem, this will happen: ______________________________


To keep termination meetings fact-based, and to avoid legal problems later, use clear and businesslike language like this:

Termination for Fault:
–On [date], you were given a final warning to _____________. Today is [date], and you have made no apparent effort to _________________. Therefore, we are terminating your employment today.

No-Fault Termination:
–As you know, the decision has been made to reduce the company’s workforce. As a result, your position has been eliminated. No alternative positions are available. Unfortunately, this means you are being let go, effective immediately. This is not a personal decision, but one based on the business needs of the company.

How much actual scripting you should suggest to your line managers depends on how talented you think they are at crafting statements appropriate to an HR situation. But a modified version of the old World War II adage might be worth keeping in mind:

Loose lips sink ships … and businesses.

What’s the, um, “least appropriate” thing you’ve had a line manager say in an HR situation? Use the “Share Comments” button and let us know

To order the QuikStep Guides for Busy Managers at no-risk, click here.