Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Firing badly. It's gonna cost you.

Managers tend to be myopic thinking about costs and HR people are more concerned with the rest of the employment lifecycle to give termination much real deliberation.  They think they know the correct way to proceed, but in reality they probably don't.  Few organizations have good downsizing or termination strategies and they have a lot at risk as a result. For the sake of argument I am going to call every dismissal a firing.

When firing an employee, you lose:
  • That workers relationships with your customers.
  • That workers proprietary knowledge and experience
  • The inevitable "who's next" amongst the rest of the team.
  • Your corporate reputation,
Companies who fire senior people without forethought risk all this and more. The inevitable vacuum is problematic, word of mouth will create rumours as to the reasons and the likelihood of bigger, hidden issues.
Surprise firings of senior people speaks to bad planning and rash decisions. The long term effect on the employee is usually nothing, the long term impact on the business can be very real in terms of dollars and cents.

There are ways of doing this that protect the organization and, frankly, not a lot of HR people see the bigger picture, neither does the CFO or the supervisor. It behooves the most senior executive to understand what the impact is likely to be and plan to mitigate it long before the act occurs.

Now sometimes, organizational restructuring happens and in these cases the best advice I can offer is to fire the assholes first; everyone in the company knows who they are and if you don't then you don't know your business. Get rid of the assholes, bullies and sycophants. Most of your staff will be grateful that you did.  When you, instead, terminate the most popular manager you have, you will find, as a consequence and after time that your staff never really stop staying in touch with the good guy and sooner or later, someone, or more will leave your organization to go work for the good guy at his new place.  Some of my best recruiting comes from exactly these circumstances, believe me, people are more loyal to each other than they are to the business.

Your lawyer probably isn't going to be much help, few lawyers look at firing s from the perspective of anything other than contract.

You might get some carefully drafted language in the fired managers separation agreement that says they can't recruit, but just as nature abhors a vacuum, so to will your existing workers ignore an agreement they are not part of and recruit themselves into the good guys business. 

Understanding these dynamics is useful for post incident consideration, but there is more: As the CEO or VP here are a few thoughts to keep in mind that should influence your decision making and firing methodology:

1) Who's the to be fired manager sleeping with? Are you breaking up any extracurricular relationships, real or implied? I know we'd all like to deny this happens, but come on, you know it does, and it does.

2) Is the to be fired manager financially stable?  This is a tough question, a lot of times people are looking for "one more severance cheque and then they can retire" other times they have problems that are very real.

3) Is the to be  fired manager likely to be vindictive or spiteful? Loonie tunes shoot up post offices, other people just go postal on social media.

4) Does the to be fired manager have family in the company? This is tricky and tough, if you chose to fire everyone with the same last name expect a human rights complaint.

5) What were the circumstances of their hiring, were they recruited, by an associate in the business? If they were so good that you stole them from the competition, why aren't they that good now and have you questioned the judgement of the person who hired him, who else did that person hire?

6) What kind of job did they have before? If the hiring was a promotion, why?

7) Is their health good? If you are terminating someone with health issues, what is your plan to mitigate liability?

8) Are they armed? Don't assume anything in this regard, an accurate shot and a quiet burial have been contemplated by more than a few unstable people.

9) Do they know anything that can hurt you? Are they privy to any corporate behaviour that is not 100% above board?  That government inspector your manger took fishing suddenly comes into play.

10) How will they get home after the firing? this is important because whoever drives them home needs to keep notes, some crazy shite is likely to be said.

Each of these topics needs consideration beyond the basics of you not wanting that person to be there and at the end of the day it's all about money and security.  Properly done, a firing, while never pleasant, can be structured in such a way as to mitigate the risk to the organization. I am not particularly concerned with the employee, I am more concerned with making sure the business does not suffer as a result of the firing. 

I was fired by an incompetent idiot who didn't know he was doing me a favour and another time by a guy  who really cared. There is a lot of honesty in the termination process and so there should be. 

There are a million ways to die in the west and about the same number of ways for an employer to pooch a firing.  

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