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Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local - and Helped Save an American Town
3 of 5 stars
The story of Bassett furniture and John Bassett III in particular is a great one that should be told. Beth Macy does a reasonable job telling it, but spends much too much time discussing her challenges and experiences writing the book as...
The Silent Man
5 of 5 stars
Another great John Wells book. I previously compared Alex Berenson and his hero, John Wells, with Vince Flynn and his troubled CIA agent/assassin, Mitch Rapp. Towards the end of Flynn's short life and in his final Rapp books, Flynn got a...
Getting Started with Hobby Quadcopters and Drones
2 of 5 stars
When I was looking up reviews of drones on the web, I found several mentions of this "book" (a pamphlet,really). It's OK,but all the information can be easily found elsewhere online. The repeated warning about crashing your drone and sta...
The Martian
5 of 5 stars
Wow. Just . . . wow. This was one of the most entertaining books I have read in a long time. The story is fabulous and the execution wonderful. Basically a diary of an astronaut left behind in an escape from a failed Mars mission (though...
The Ghost War
5 of 5 stars
I've read a few other of Berenson's John Wells books before and found them entertaining,although not up to the standard set by Vince Flynn and his hero, Mitch Rapp. Sadly, Flynn passed away and having finished all the Mitch Rapp books, I...

When Firing Someone, Focus On Those Who Remain

Firing is hard.  It should be.  First, it only happens because of a failure.  A failure to hire the right person, a failure to train that person well, a failure to create the right motivational or managerial environment for that person or a failure of the person you hire to execute to expectations (note that 3/4 of these failures are those of the hiring manager or company, not of the employee).  Second, it’s likely that you’ll be disrupting at least the life of the employee and, perhaps, the employee’s entire family.  Unless the employee’s done something worthy of Charles Manson or Ken Lay, this factor has to come in to play.  Third, you have to deal with a myriad of various legal and regulatory issues involved with firing someone, making sure that your ass is appropriately covered.  Fourth, and most importantly, you have to put a tremendous amount of time, attention and energy in to making sure that those who aren’t being fired (read: everyone else) understand what has happened and how it effects them.

This last item, while frequently a neglected part of the firing process, is the most crucial part of it.  If by firing a single person you negatively impact the performance of everyone who worked around them, then you’ve failed to achieve what you set out to do – make the organization better by virtue of removing that person from it.  The reason why this part is so difficult and time consuming is that it is the most complex.  You need to understand how the person being fired fit culturally in the organization and work within that space.  Of course, if the person was universally hated, there is no work to do – you’ll be an instant hero and productivity will increase.  If the fired employee was a respected member of the team or even just an average contributor though, you’ll have to deal with inevitable, fundamental and, often, unspoken questions:

  • “What does this mean for me?”
  • “Am I next?”
  • “Is the company in trouble?”
  • “Is this part of a layoff?”
  • “What did the person do wrong?  Am I doing the same thing?”
  • You get the idea . . .

As soon as someone is fired, the lower levels of Maslow’s Pyramid rear their head.  You’ll quickly be dealing with job and life security issues instead of the psychology of motivation and growth.  It is always about “me.”  The time to address these questions is before you fire the employee (that’s the planning, of course, not the actual communication which can only take place after the firing).  If you try to clean up the mess after the firing, you may find yourself trapped in a maelstrom of issues that can take you a long time to unwind and may result in the loss of people that you hadn’t planned on.

To appropriately deal with this situation, as part of your pre-firing planning, you need to consider the organizational impact of the person leaving alongside the obvious process and legal issues.  In this case, I like to get the easier process/legal stuff taken care of first:

  • Map out the process of the employee’s separation from the company – terms of separation, severance (if any), the employee’s last day, transfer of company property, stock option exercise, etc.
  • How you’re going to fill in for the employee’s responsibilities in the organization.
  • Ready all legal paperwork required for the move.

After the easy stuff is taken care of, map out a plan of communication and action to address the fear and uncertainty issues that will remain after the person being fired is gone.  Depending on the size of the organization, consider that you may not be able to handle this effort yourself.  Decide first which people in the organization are the greatest influencers of others (including managers, of course) and communicate with them first.  Since you cannot possibly talk to everyone you need to within the first hours or days after the firing, they will become your mouthpieces for the explanation of the situation.  Time is of the essence, here.  If you fire a person on a Friday, for example, you may not be able to communicate with everyone you need to, leaving them the whole weekend to ponder what happened and why.  Do the deed early in the week so you have some runway.

Additionally, consider the people who will be the most adversely affected by the news.  Prioritize who you need to speak with first, or who may need your personal attention, and make sure you speak with them as soon as possible.  Often, the people at the top of this prioritized list will be the intersection of those that are the most important to your organization with those that may be the most sensitive to that particular employee’s firing.

In all communication, make sure that your explanation is consistent (yes, people compare notes) and is from the point of view of the people remaining with the organization – not your point of view or the that of the person who was fired.  Put yourself in their shoes.  It will not only help them through the situation, but it will get you additional brownie points.  And don’t bail out and have a group/organization/company meeting about it.  It’s impersonal and makes too big a deal about the action.  Be subtle because the way you communicate is as important as what you communicate.

I’m not talking about a week of effort here (although the firing of a high-level person in a large organization may, in fact, take that much effort or more) – most often, it will only require a day or two of planning.  In a small organization, perhaps even just a few hours.  If you execute all this successfully, even the worst firing will be a small bump in the road.  You’ll wonder why you worked so hard to set it up.  Keep in mind that it was because you worked so hard at it that it became just a small bump in the road.  If you think you can get away with less effort, consider how much a lost week of productivity from the whole organization will cost you.  Sounds like a small amount of work now, eh?

Although this process may be easier for the firing of individual contributors as compared to managers, you need to take into account the fact that people come to work every day and build loyalty to an organization because of the people that they work with, not because of their particular job, or job function.  In this sense, the firing of a popular individual contributor may have an equal, or even greater, impact on the organization than the firing of a manager.

By the way, this is obviously all true for layoffs too.  Layoffs just require quite a bit more planning.

  • Mr. Doody

    “note that 3/4 of these failures are those of the hiring manager or company, not of the employee” What is the source of this statistic? Doody

  • Mr. Doody

    “note that 3/4 of these failures are those of the hiring manager or company, not of the employee”

    What is the source of this statistic?

    Doody

  • Tali Aben

    Excellent points.  We’re often so afraid of firing somebody, because of “what it might do to the others”.  I can’t think of a worse reason not to go ahead with such a plan.  However,  it’s important to remember that people are people, and they will need some time to accept the change.  Hopefully, with minimal interference.

  • Tali Aben

    Excellent points.  We’re often so afraid of firing somebody, because of “what it might do to the others”.  I can’t think of a worse reason not to go ahead with such a plan.  However,  it’s important to remember that people are people, and they will need some time to accept the change.  Hopefully, with minimal interference.

  • Dave Jilk

    How do you typically deal with the perfectly reasonable question “why was he/she fired?” and the fact that you will probably get sued if you actually answer it? Something you don’t mention is that usually some of the staff will remain in touch with the fired person and whatever communications you promulgate will get back to the fired individual – consequently the communication planning needs to also take that into account.

  • Dave Jilk

    How do you typically deal with the perfectly reasonable question “why was he/she fired?” and the fact that you will probably get sued if you actually answer it?

    Something you don’t mention is that usually some of the staff will remain in touch with the fired person and whatever communications you promulgate will get back to the fired individual – consequently the communication planning needs to also take that into account.

  • http://www.2-speed.com/ Will

    Dave Jilk asks: “How do you typically deal with the perfectly reasonable question “why was he/she fired?” and the fact that you will probably get sued if you actually answer it?” It’s an excellent question compounded by his point that people inside the company often remain in touch with the person that was fired.  I will say that I’ve fired many people and have never been sued for the answer given to the question, above.  That’s not to say that I haven’t been sued over a firing, of course. What I try to do is discuss the party line with the person that is being fired.  That’s not to say that I’ll just repeat whatever the fired employee wants, but I rarely find a problem creating a statement that includes what is already known by other employees about the situation, key messages that I’d like to get across about the firing and ingredients of the story the employee would like promoted. Of course, I have final say in what it is, but again, I don’t find it too difficult to find common ground.  If the firing is contentious, I make what I am going to say (without regard to what the employee wants understood) clear to the employee, so they are not surprised when it comes out. Ultimately, the fired employee needs to get a new job and will have more trouble without the support of their previous manager.  Once any initial anger passes, they get this and will work with you most often.

  • http://www.2-speed.com Will

    Dave Jilk asks: “How do you typically deal with the perfectly reasonable question “why was he/she fired?” and the fact that you will probably get sued if you actually answer it?”

    It’s an excellent question compounded by his point that people inside the company often remain in touch with the person that was fired.  I will say that I’ve fired many people and have never been sued for the answer given to the question, above.  That’s not to say that I haven’t been sued over a firing, of course.

    What I try to do is discuss the party line with the person that is being fired.  That’s not to say that I’ll just repeat whatever the fired employee wants, but I rarely find a problem creating a statement that includes what is already known by other employees about the situation, key messages that I’d like to get across about the firing and ingredients of the story the employee would like promoted. Of course, I have final say in what it is, but again, I don’t find it too difficult to find common ground.  If the firing is contentious, I make what I am going to say (without regard to what the employee wants understood) clear to the employee, so they are not surprised when it comes out.

    Ultimately, the fired employee needs to get a new job and will have more trouble without the support of their previous manager.  Once any initial anger passes, they get this and will work with you most often.

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