Sunday, September 25, 2011

Termination is a Dish Best Prepared and Served Cold

While it might be borderline entertainment to watch Donald Trump in the reality-t.v. show The Apprentice spontaneously combust fire his victims contestants on the spot:

Real-life terminations of employment, when handled in this fashion, ruin reputations of both the organization as well as the respective executive / leadership team:  to say nothing about the devastating impact on both employee and customer recruitment, retention and engagement.

How you treat people as you exit them from your organization is just as important (if not more important) as how you on-board them as new employees and treat them during the tenure with your organization, impacting the level of your employees' and your customers' engagement.

Engaged employees are productive employees, and productive employees give great customer service, which in turn drives customer recruitment / retention.  Check my girlfriend Google, The Thank-You Economy and other sources, like The Society of Human Resources Management, if you're at all skeptical about those key inter-relationships.

Which makes off-the-cuff and spontaneously combustive real-life terminations, such as the phone termination of former NPR Correspondent Juan Williams or the phone termination of Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz frankly puzzling, given the reputation-bruising both organizations received from the resultant negative publicity. 

When Yahoo then put itself on the market for purchase right after Bartz's firing, engagement was clearly not the focus, financial survival was.   Which explains the leadership vacuum on several levels, as exemplified by Bartz's parting email sent to all Yahoo employees:

To all,” Bartz wrote, “I am very sad to tell you that I’ve just been fired over the phone by Yahoo’s Chairman of the Board. It has been my pleasure to work with all of you and I wish you only the best going forward.”

This lack of professionalism telegraphs that both terminations were not planned and occurred as a result of an emotional reaction, rather than a factual response.

Which brings the leadership of the organization into question:  if a termination decision is made and handled in this manner, how is the leadership team handling other business / mission-critical decisions?

And that's what I mean when I say that termination is a dish best prepared and served cold.  When an executive or similar decision-maker comes to me as the HR subject-matter expert totally pissed off and ready to fire the target of their ire on the spot, I gently apply the brakes on the situation, with some simple steps and questions designed to minimize / prevent organizational exposure and protect the reputations of all involved.
  • What policies / procedures has the target violated?
  • Is there any documentation or prior warnings in their file?
  • What danger / exposure exists if the target is not fired on the spot? (One of the few on-the-spot terminations I've performed occurred after weapons were discovered and thankfully confiscated in the employee's workstation.)
  • If there is a lack of facts / evidence on the first 3 points above, is the decision-maker comfortable with the legal and public relations risks?  That is:  is the decision-maker (and the organization's leadership team) comfortable with reading about how the decision-maker potentially mishandled the target's termination in the local newspaper?
  • Is there a plan to minimize company exposure? 
  • Is there a plan at all, e.g. how to communicate the target's departure, managing company security, etc.?
If the answer is no to any of the above points, time must be taken to develop and implement the plan factually and rationally.  

The first step of the plan is for the decision-maker to cool off and shelve their emotions so the facts can drive strategic termination planning and implementation.

If not:  the decision-maker may find themselves in the same boat as Trump's hapless contestants; or their former employees.

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