You’re Fired!

I was listening to a friend talk the other day about a period in his career where he was firing lots of people. His manufacturing company had a number of employees and sometimes he would fire as many as five in a day. It appeared that he kind of enjoyed this task. He liked to make a public spectacle of a termination. He’d yell at someone in front of their co-workers and then tell them they were through. And I quote, “There was none of this ‘you’re just not a good fit for this job’ nonsense. Very simply – you’re fired!” Whoa! This sounds pretty cold – maybe even cruel. I don’t agree at all with his approach, but the conversation was positive from the standpoint that it crystallized a concept for me.

Firing equals failure. You may think this is an obvious thing to say – of course the employee who is fired has failed. But actually I’m looking at it as a failure on the part of the employer. This is a critical distinction for entrepreneurs. The reasons for terminations are numerous. Poor performance, lying, misappropriation of company property, behavior that is contrary to company policy, insubordination, being tardy or excessively absent, drug (or alcohol) abuse during the work day – the list goes on and on. Still, the failure mostly falls on us as entrepreneurs when an involuntary separation occurs.

For starters, it’s quite possible that we hired the right person for the wrong job. The current labor market is very difficult for employers, and there can be a tendency to hire job candidates that simply aren’t the right fit. We resolve not to fall into this trap, but weeks later we’re hearing the rumblings from our team that they are overworked as they are covering the vacant position. Productivity is suffering and we finally hire someone who we know is probably “iffy.” We rationalize that we can make this person a project, and with a little mentoring they’ll be fine. The outcome is predictable. It seldom works out – both the mentoring and the new employee.

Hiring the right folks is hard work. Our company needs to at least have a neutral to positive reputation if we expect to attract the kind of talent we need. A negative reputation will likely result in driving away quality talent. A strong positive culture supported by authentic core values will bolster our reputation. Creating comprehensive roles and accountabilities is an absolute must. Actively recruiting for new team members is mandatory. Simply posting a position on an online recruiting website isn’t enough anymore. We must do everything in our power to create a large pool of qualified candidates from which to choose.

Once we have prospects for a vacant position, we need to pull out the stops to find the sparkling diamond that adds value to our organization. Testing, psychological profiling and multiple interviews with different members of the management team, are standard fare. Background checks and drug screening are also part of the process. Interviews must be carefully crafted to develop the full picture of an individual – strengths, weaknesses, traits, tendencies and even danger signals. Here’s the bottom line. It’s on us if we don’t hire the right person to begin with. And if we have to fire someone because they weren’t the right person, that firing is our failure.

When we terminate someone’s employment we must also take an introspective look at our own performance. We may have hired the right person for the right job, but did we do our part? How well did we train our new team member? Or was it the famous, “here’s your desk, here’s your phone, lots of luck, you’re on your own?” Another common rationalization for lack of solid training goes like this, “John Doe was in a similar position at Company X. We’re a fast-paced organization and we don’t have time to train people who ought to already know what to do based upon their level of experience.” There may be a grain of truth to this but for the most part, every new team member needs to be trained. The training may be less focused on the mechanics of doing the job and more centered around our company’s way of serving the customer, maintaining efficiency, being safe and increasing productivity. If we have to fire someone because they weren’t sufficiently trained, that firing is our failure.

Finally, we must ask ourselves whether or not the team member we are terminating had the proper tools and/or resources to do their job. How unfair is it to fire someone when we haven’t provided such basic elements to ensure his or her success? You probably wouldn’t be surprised to know how often this happens due to budgetary constraints. We expect someone to do their job perfectly, but then we hold the purse strings so tightly that they can’t even meet minimum standards. If we have to fire someone because they didn’t have the necessary tools and resources, that firing is our failure.

Firing a member of our team is nothing to celebrate. In fact it is often a failure of our leadership and can be prevented by putting the right person in the right job; providing sufficient training, and making sure to provide the proper tools and/or resources.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 107 – Whale Sharks.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Case of the Frozen Hostage

Damon has a problem. His staffing company is four years old and growing like crazy. Bottom line profits have doubled year-over-year since he launched the firm and several members of his team have been with him from the very beginning. Sounds like a dream story so far, right? But as I said, Damon has a problem. A key member of his organization, Mason, has become increasingly disruptive. Mason is in a position of leadership and works tirelessly – the business would not be where it is today without him. Unfortunately, the way he treats others is unacceptable. His approach is command and control. He bullies. He yells. And he threatens. Other members of the team go out of their way to avoid dealing with this individual and everyone walks on eggshells when they are forced to interact with him.

Damon isn’t blind to the problem. He has counseled Mason on many occasions. The result is always the same – an apology and a promise to change. But change is either short-lived or never happens at all. Within days he’s back to his old ways. Damon has offered to pay for therapy but is met with a benign sort of resistance. Mason agrees that he will consider professional help but never follows through to begin receiving it.

Recently Damon began thinking about making a change and terminating Mason. He considered all of the chaos and hurt feelings caused by this person. But he also recognized that Mason has some unique skills not to mention important client relationships. On the one hand Damon knows that Mason has already caused the departure of several team members over the past 18 months. Yet, he worries that letting Mason go might cause the loss of certain clients. And who would be able to step in and have the domain expertise to function as effectively as does Mason? Damon doesn’t know what to do and as the days and weeks go by, the problems with Mason persist. This is a classic case of The Frozen Hostage.

In effect, Damon is allowing himself to be held hostage by Mason. And he’s frozen into a do-nothing position. Does any of this sound familiar? Many of us undoubtedly have similar situations that exist in our own organizations. We want to try and make things work to everyone’s satisfaction. We all want our “Masons” to turn over a new leaf and start treating others with the respect they deserve – then everyone will be happy. Not one of us wants to take that deep breath and plunge into the icy waters of our “Mason’s” exit. We are convinced it will be messy and painful. So we procrastinate. And our inaction causes more suffering within our organizations.

I will be the first to concede that dealing with an issue like this is not pleasant. We develop loyalties, especially where we know someone has busted their rear to help us build our business. But eventually we cannot tolerate the behavior any longer and realize that we need to put an end to the madness – especially if our “Mason” isn’t interested in truly modifying his behavior.

The path toward “thawing out” the Frozen Hostage is straightforward. We need a plan. It starts with determining whether or not we can abide our “Mason” until we find a replacement for him. In either case, we must identify the process for finding the replacement. The plan includes developing a clear understanding of Mason’s role and accountabilities and looking for vulnerabilities. Then we tackle the vulnerabilities including technical skills and processes, as well as internal and external relationships. What is the timetable for implementing this plan? What is going to be announced and when? Who is going to cover the different roles and accountabilities on an interim basis after Mason departs? If we are lucky enough to surreptitiously hire his replacement, how are we going to ensure that our new team member hits the ground running without stumbling?

When we are the Frozen Hostage, we aren’t inclined to create this plan of attack. We just keep hoping that things get better and we don’t have to take drastic action . . . except it never seems to work out that way. By forcing ourselves into the planning mode we begin the thawing process.

As leaders, becoming a Frozen Hostage causes serious morale problems within our organizations. Knowing that we eventually have to take an unpleasant action, a logical planning process for replacing a key team member can make the path a bit smoother.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 64 – The LFT Problem.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.