Saturday, November 10, 2007

Firing staff is not something to be proud of

One of the hardest things to do as a manager is to give bad news. When that bad news is implementing disciplinary action it really challenges the emotions of conscientious managers.

As a manager I had people responsible to me in the health care business and I always found giving bad news the most difficult part of my job. I had to sack 2 people in my 35 year career and on both occasions I found it really difficult to deal with emotionally. I felt awful in fact and I still feel bad about it all these years later.

In both cases I feel the decision was right and despite appeals by both people, my decision was upheld on both occasions when heard on appeal by a higher authority than me in the organisation. Despite being proved right I would rather not have had to do it and it gave me no satisfaction whatsoever. I would say that anyone who actually enjoys doing that sort of thing is in urgent need of therapy.

What are your experiences of doing this sort of thing and how did you feel emotionally?


mike said...

In a previous management position I was once ordered to terminate an employee by my boss. I did not agree with the decision and protested it. The boss had the attitude that if I didn't fire the employee, he would. I should have let him. Instead, I did it and felt bad about it for years afterward because it was the wrong thing to do. On several occasions since then I have had to terminate employees and I never felt bad about it because I knew it was the right thing to do. I never enjoyed doing it, but I never had any guilt or anguish about it because I understood the health of the whole team was being threatened by the attitude of one poorly performing individual.

Trevor Gay said...

Thanks Mike – your comments sum up my feelings exactly. The only two people I ever sacked accepted the decision and in fact one of them shook my hand as we parted and said I was a very fair person. That definitely helped me deal with the emotional feelings of taking away someone else’s livelihood.

Mike Chitty said...

It is great when a manager can comfortably fire someone - knowing that they have done the right thing - both for the company, for themselves, and for the person they are firing. This requires that they have given plenty of very specific feedback on the behaviour/performance issues that is causing concern. They have provided extensive developmental coaching to help the individual address the performance issue. The manager should also have coached for this performance extensively within the process for managing under performance. They should also have considered carefully whether they are using the individuals strengths - or have them in a role where their weaknesses are heavily exposed.
If a manager can honestly say that they gave plenty of useful feedback, that they have coached extensively and that they have done all they can to allow the employee to play to their strengths - and performance is still below the standard expected then the manager should be able to sack them and sleep soundly at night. To my mind too many managers turn a blind eye to mediocre organisational performance - because they lack the courage and the tools to manage performance effectively. They cause more damage all around by colluding in poor performance than by firing someone and giving them the chance to learn from the experience and find somewhere where they can be more successful.

Trevor Gay said...

Hi Mike – thanks for your comments

One of the most depressing things to me is how some managers fail to grasp performance issues - because then everyone suffers. We end up with a lose/lose/lose situation for the employee, the manager and the organisation. The best managers always coach employees and help those who may be struggling. In my experience anyone who is under performing usually knows it and quite often all it takes to solve the problem is for the manager to find the right place for that person’s skills to be best used. That may mean a move to another section or at worst it may mean the employee having to leave to find their right place. In my experience many managers under-estimate self-insight of employees and I would always encourage people to leave if they are not happy. That is different of course to forcing someone out. I am convinced most employees want to do good work and do a great job – the manager should be the coach by creating the right environment. As I have often written the first job of any manager who has staff reporting to them is to make sure the talent of everyone is used most effectively. The manager needs to provide the environment and then get out of the way.

David said...

I am a Sr. VP of Human Resources and have been involved in laying off and firing dozens of employees over the years. No matter the justification for the firing, I am always sick to my stomach before taking the actions. I am also in bewildered awe of the grace with which every single person impacted by these discussions has behaved. I pray for that kind of grace should I ever be in that position. The firing of staff should be considered a failure of leadership and, in my current role, require the employee's leader to lead the discussion with the employee. They need to feel the pain and realize that this is an action of last, not first, resort.

Trevor Gay said...

David - Amen and thank you.

Your comments neatly sum up precisely how I have felt on the few occasions I have had to implement disciplinary action as a manager.

'A failure of leadership' is a great line - thank you!

KT said...

In my current management position, I have only fired two people. The first one was a pretty cut and dry case and most people were not unhappy to see this person leave because they were toxic to the system. The second one happened two days ago and I have been struggling with the process. I had an employee who I had been coaching and teaching for 3 years, including training, development plans etc. but even with support seemed to make poor decisions. This employee had a little over three weeks to go before he resigned and relocate in another city. His work performance plummeted and began putting the company and customers at risk. I spoke with him a few times about it but finally insubordination was the last straw and I asked him to resign early or be terminated. He was very upset, but did in fact resign. This employee was well liked by many of my staff and now I go to work every day and 4 of my staff members refuse to look in my direction or acknowledge my presence. Any suggestions?

Trevor Gay said...

Hi KT – you have my sympathy.

Sounds like, from what you say, that you did everything you could to help this person for 3 years and then you got kicked in the teeth. The person, it seems, did not want to help him/her self despite the best coaching you could provide. Unfortunately there are some people in life who do not come up to the mark even with all the help in the world.

I am a great believer in giving people many chances and it sounds like you did give this person a lot of support. I worked with a manager a long time ago who said that they would always support their subordinates and give them plenty of chances but if the person kept on putting their head in the guillotine one day it would get cut off.

If I were in your position I would be asking myself two questions

1 Was I fair with this person?
2 Was my course of action right given the circumstances?

I am sure you went through that process because you sound like a caring person.

The 4 people do not know all the circumstances that you know and they just have to get over it. Being a manager is not always a popular place to be but as long as you can look in the mirror and know you were fair to this person, then I would say you did all you could reasonably be expected to do. They will come round eventually I’m sure.

My greatest guru in life is a 78 year old Professor who always tells me ‘This too will pass’

Not sure if I’ve helped you but that’s my take on it given the fact I don’t know all the circumstances.

Take care and good luck – let me now how it goes.