Have you ever fired anyone?
I have. I hope you never have to do this. Thirty years ago I lost sleep the night before I had to tell someone they weren’t coming back. I still do – I hope I never lose that sense of empathy.
When I first began my career at Procter & Gamble (P&G), one the finest training grounds there is for working with people, it was drummed into my head than an exit was a loss: somewhere along the way we, as a company, had made an error in hiring, promotion, training, etc. The idea was that an involuntary termination was our fault. We had missed an opportunity – or multiple opportunities – to turn something around.
As we emerge now from the employer’s market, as we surely have, the sins of the past are catching up with us. Twice in recent memory, 2000 and again in 2008, employment leverage (in the US anyway) swung wildly from the employee’s favor to the employer. This is the nature of markets. They move in waves from one side to the other – housing, equities, employment – seeking equilibrium.
When the employment market moves to the employer side we do things for short-term benefit that will have longterm impact. Cut your 401k match during the lean times? Most companies won’t restore them during the boom times. Increase employee-paid portions of health insurance? Reduce time away? Slow promotions and merit raises? People remember.
Capriciously reduce staff and treat survivors like they ought to be grateful? People remember that too.
Firing someone is a big deal. Its so big we don’t use that term now. As if words alone could change the impact we call it separating or releasing people. My cynical friends call it de-employing. But whatever label you use, it has tremendous impact.
Before you fire someone take a few precautions.
- Will the other coworkers agree your action was just? Will they see it as the logical next step? If not, you may have moved too quickly
- Beyond the legal concerns of disparate impact to protected class ask a more fundamental question: is it righteous? Remember those types of questions? We used to ask them in HR
- Did you rush to judgment or did you allow enough sleepless nights and enough collaboration to feel that this is the best solution?
- Is it personal? Are you “getting someone?” If so, you need to get back and recalibrate yourself: firing is not a weapon
- Is there any other reasonable alternative? Have you asked others for options? Is firing your talent the best thing to do? If so, how did you find them and hire them? Examine that system
Firing someone isn’t as light and painless as portrayed on silly reality shows or made-up movies. Its real life with real life impact to the employee, family, coworkers and maybe even the public. Handled badly it can hurt both people and firms.
In one of the most important roles HR can play you’d better take this step seriously and think through all your options.
And don’t ever sleep too well the night before you share the news. That’s not good.