Saturday, August 4, 2012

We Have To Let You Go

Firing someone is one of the hardest thing a manager has to do. This is when true leadership comes into it, because its not the "act" of firing someone, its how you deliver it that matters. 

In my previous life I had to "let go" quite a few people for various reasons, and because I worked in a large corporate organisation there were strict rules on how it was to be done. I didn't necessarily agree with it, but was led by corporate policy and enacted the job according to the guidelines. There, I came across many managers who gloated about being known as the "terminator" or even how they silently enjoyed the job because it was "cleansing". I never really understood it. 

While I wasn't fired from my position, but made redundant, the company still applied the corporate policy when delivering the news to me. It was horrible, archaic and very impersonal. I was taken out of a client meeting and up to HR where I sat in a small room with the Managing Director, the HR Director and my manager. My manager awkwardly delivered the script written in front of him, his discomfort was obvious. I was asked to hand in my blackberry immediately which was the only communication device I had for many years, and which held every contact detail of my family members and friends. I was then escorted to my desk to collect my personal belongings before being walked out of the building. In front of my colleagues, my ex staff and my peers - like a criminal. 

How did this effect me? Well lets just say I don't have a lot of respect for that organisation any more. Their methods and policies towards their greatest assets - their "people" are really just words printed on their walls. Resentful? Yes of course, and its been over a year! 

Could they have done something differently? Absolutely!

I made a promise that if ever I was in the position of letting someone go - I would deliver it with courage and ensure that the other persons dignity was upmost paramount. 

Ironically just over a year to the day that this happened to me, I was in the position of sitting down with a staff member and explaining to her that her employment with us was no longer required. Even though I agreed with the business decisions, I still agonised the entire weekend with broken sleep and nightmares. I wrote down what I wanted to say, and was absolutely aware of how I wanted to say it. To me it wasn't about the words but about how I made her feel. 

And I think I did a good job. 

After I delivered the news to her, I then asked if she would like a chance to go back to her desk, say goodbye to her colleagues and take any personal information from her work phone before handing it back in. After a bit of time, she went back to her desk silently and gathered her things. I gave her a cabcharge card so she didn't have to catch public transport home. She then had a chat with her colleagues to let them know, wiped her personal emails, downloaded her photos and personal contacts from her phone, and then gave me a hug for being professional and kind about the way I handled it. I sent an announcement email out immediately afterwards thanking her and wishing her well and ensured that the rest of the team didn't feel vulnerable because of what happened. 

I really do hate the job of letting people go - but this is one of those areas that separates the managers from the leaders. 

1 comment:

  1. I've never been involved in letting someone go; frankly I've never been in that kind of role.

    Sadly I have been let go a few times now, for "team fit" reasons - way to go on the ambiguous front - to me it just translates as "You can do the job, we just don't like you". How do you learn from that? If they'd have said "hey - you said you could do X & Y but after our efforts to bring you up to speed you still cannot do X & Y, so we're letting you go" - that I could deal with. But "we don't like you" just isn't fair.

    You can't just let someone go because you don't like them, or the team doesn't like them. That's just unprofessional. The question to ask in this circumstance is "how do I turn this around?" or "why?". Let me give an example. I worked with a guy who was widely regarded as conceited and obnoxious from the former Soviet Union. From previous experience of working with people in Eastern Europe, I know that this it's just cultural. Eastern Europeans and ex-Soviets are just that way. But the news isn't all bad - often they're technically excellent & if you actually get to know them, they're truly good people. Also this guy was found to have a problem with sleep apnea & low and behold that makes people... cranky. So look deeper & question your own assumptions. It is so incredibly short sighted and arrogant to judge a human being in such a way. Be big.

    I agree with the law. The first step is to work hard with someone to retain them. Identify the root causes of the problems and have a real try at working on them through. Set clear and achievable goals and deadlines with instant feedback of incursions as relevant. Then if the time comes to let them go, you've got documented evidence of what you've done & you're ok with the law and no party should be surprised.

    Finally if I had to let someone go, I would do my absolute utmost to ensure that they left with some dignity and their head held high. Farewell dinner or drinks would be a must, and the other employees would only get to hear about the person moving on to greener pastures, not actually let go. People's professional reputations are important, & a little bit of fun sadistically grinding someone's face in the dirt after you've kicked them down is despicable. There is no reason not to offer advice, and care, and do everything in your power to do the right thing by the person that your business (after a fashion) made the mistake of hiring to begin with.