After one of my workshops, a young lady approached me. Introducing herself, she explained she'd been fired a few days ago. The news came as a total surprise. A couple days later, she got a call from her former boss. It'd seem the company still had a few contracts in place with customers that she was overseeing. With her sudden departure, those customers got forwarded to her boss-who didn't know what to do. He offered her the job back.
She turned them down, knowing she couldn’t trust her boss’s decisions. I wish I could say hers was the first time I’ve heard a similar tale. It’s a lesson for us as leaders.
Be Confident in Your Decision
It was clear the young lady’s boss didn’t know the full extent of her contributions to the company. They started to set in after the fact, and he scrambled. By offering the job back, her boss admitted her firing was a mistake. He hadn't thought it through well enough to know the full impact of what he was doing. How many other firings are done as a knee-jerk reaction?
The story reminded me of an article at Harvard Business Review, which recommends using past tense when firing someone to prevent any thought of second chances from the employee. Firing someone is a final decision.
As leaders, the same is true for us. There is no undo. Before firing someone, think through the ramifications. Not only as far as workload, but from a cultural perspective. Does the person you’re firing need more training? How much coaching have they been given? Are they being fired for a mistake from leadership? Are they a cultural fit, and if so can their skill set be used somewhere else in the company?
As leaders, we expect the best from our people. We want them to do the best job they can tackling their challenges projects each day. We owe them the same from ourselves, especially when it comes to their livelihood.
Embrace Uncomfortable Conversations
When focus is on the person getting fired, as leaders it can be easy to forget about the rest of our tribe. How will they react to the news?
It happens all the time. Someone gets let go and no one knows really knows why. What did they do to get fired? Was it really Bobby’s performance or was he set up to fail by leadership?
For your employees forced to pick up the additional workload left by firing someone, these sorts of questions feed the human nature to ask the question everyone wants to know: Am I next?
Before firing someone, always check the legalities in your area. A big part about that is how much you can say about the situation. Poor performance is a poor excuse—it’s too vague. Get as specific as you can to help alleviate the fears of wondering who’s next. That means having an uncomfortable conversation with your employees to clear the air and answer any questions they might have.
In a positive culture, your employees should trust you enough to make the best decisions. Trust is hard to build and even more difficult to rebuild. The more of an effort you put into building that trust today the better off you’ll be if you’re forced to make difficult decisions tomorrow.
Piyush Patel, author of Lead Your Tribe, Love Your Work, is an innovator in corporate culture and an entrepreneur with more than 20 years of experience. He grew his company, Digital-Tutors, into a leader throughout the world of online training, educating over 1.5 million students in digital animation, with clients including Pixar, Apple and NASA. A former Northern Oklahoma College professor, Patel grew frustrated with outdated training material, and launched the company from his living room with only $54 and built it without any debt or investors, eventually creating multi-million-dollar revenue. In 2014, Pluralsight acquired Digital-Tutors for $45 million.
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