Everyone who accepts a role with responsibility for providing leadership to others must accept the reality that it will eventually be their duty to tell someone, “You can’t work here anymore.” Let’s accept the notion that doing so is a solemn but necessary part of the deal, and if you can’t or won’t do it, you need to find something else to do for a living. Similarly, if the day ever comes when this stops being gut-wrenching for you, get another job.
Following are four premises that I have worked my way to over a forty-some year managerial career and more corporate executions than I care to think about.
- Prompted perhaps by the fact that de-selecting someone is serious business, more often than not, when the need to do so is becoming evident, most of us have a tendency to avert our eyes and look the other way. We can easily think of a handful of other (more fun) things that need doing and use them to justify avoiding the dreaded decision making process that could lead to separating someone from their current livelihood. We should never be in a rush to move someone out, but ignoring the situation is almost always a mistake that winds up making things worse for everyone. As with a serious medical condition, the earlier you diagnose a failing employment situation and treat it, the less pain there is. Moreover, you have a much better range of options than if you wait, and your hand is forced.
- Contrary to what you may have seen others (including one US President) do, don’t ever disparage someone before, during, or after their termination. There is absolutely nothing to be gained by doing so. It doesn’t make you appear tougher or stronger. Rather, you look like a jerk. This is truly a perfect spot to employ the advice that many of our Moms bestowed upon us in our youth about saying nothing unless we have something nice to say. So, as Mick Jagger has intoned, “…button your lip, baby.” You, too, Mr. President.
- When contemplating terminating a staff member, it is essential to undertake a rigorous decision analysis that takes into account causal conditions (including your own mistakes), fairness of the action, organizational policy, cultural norms, and options that might be better than severing the relationship. As you do so, take care to keep the matter firmly under wraps. And, be attuned to lessons that can and should be learned from the experience. After all, something went wrong somewhere… Learn from it.
- When possible, let people leave on their own terms. The fact that they are about to leave, and when that occurs may not be negotiable, but other things are, to include how the action is couched and announced. Similarly, there is seldom a need to frog march someone off the property at the close of the business day, with all their stuff in a cardboard box. Even in the 21st century where the average job tenure is less than four years (less for C-suite occupants), getting canned is still a humbling experience. In all likelihood, the grim reaper will reach out for you someday, too. Don’t make the situation worse than necessary. If for no other reason, everyone who stays is witness to the scene, and is forming impressions as to how they would be treated under similar circumstances.
If you’ve got a workforce matter like this, or another that you would like some coaching on, I would be happy to hear from you.book richard or bill to speak for your meeting