A Fired Employee Helps Your Hired Employees

ValuesWhen Tara was fired it sent a ripple through her workplace. The staff room conversation was buzzing.  People whispered to one another, “Yikes, what did Tara do to get fired?” When no information came from management the remaining staff quickly filled in the missing pieces of information with what they thought led to Tara’s firing. Gossip was flying through the workplace. Tara’s manager, Karen, wondered what she might say to put her team at ease without divulging Tara’s workplace problems.

Savvy Leaders use Firing as a Learning Tool

When leaders and managers dismiss an employee it can easily result in worries and stress for the team that remains. In-tune leaders recognize this as a teachable moment and capitalize on it by letting people know what they value and what will happen if someone is not meeting those values.

I was coaching Karen, as she faced the fallout from Tara’s firing. Karen knew she couldn’t tell her team the particulars of Tara’s dismissal and felt tongue-tied when they asked. She unintentionally shut them down even more when she replied with a curt, “I can’t talk about that.”

During a coaching session Karen was able to shift her viewpoint and see Tara’s firing as an opportunity — not a difficulty. We brainstormed a few approaches and Karen chose to share her perspective at a team meeting in this way:

“You know that Tara is no longer with the company. While I can’t discuss her specific situation, I do want you to know that you will never be surprised by being fired. We will have discussed your performance, with specific examples, and worked together to improve it. I value your growth and learning and I will be clear with you about needed improvements and the time line for making them happen.”

Karen felt an immediate sigh of relief and trust from the group as they realized that their jobs were not in jeopardy. Several sought her out after the meeting to congratulate her for letting Tara go. “What took you so long?” was the question from one team member that resonated the most. Karen had been weighing the “Tara” problem for some time. After several conversations with Tara, and woefully little improvement, Karen knew Tara’s firing was warranted.

This experience reinforced further for Karen the key role her one-on-ones have with her team. These regular and honest conversations keep Karen communicating with her team with mutual and ongoing feedback. What it takes to continue working with Karen is no longer a mystery for her team .

When was the last time you told your team what would get them fired and what would keep them hired? Now that Karen recognizes that firing an underperforming employee helps her remaining employees embrace and follow the company’s core values about growth and learning she knows she will be able to move more quickly the next time she recognizes that someone needs to go.

So, I’d say that firing an employee creates an opportunity to reinforce what you value with the team that remains. What would you say?

Image by Stuart Miles from freedigitalphotos.net

8 thoughts on “A Fired Employee Helps Your Hired Employees

  1. Always find ways to make lemonade from lemons! When I was inordinately lectured by my former boss & HR for a complaint made by my millennial insubordinate (whom has a history of reporting supervisors for trying to correct her). . . I turned the admonishment of my too driven ROI focused management style into an open discussion of the difference in work style & ethics among baby boomers and the 18 to 31 year old cohort. The outcome was great with my boss having a better appreciation of my values & relevance which resulted in an unexpectedly positive review of my accomplishments. I didn’t get defensive nor defamatory, but honestly expressed my surprise for being called out for what had always throughout all my previous positions had been acceptable managerial behavior. It’s all how you hear and how you say it! Thanks, Jamie for another very relevant post!

  2. I do agree that using a firing as a way to enforce office values is a great tactic. I also agree that Karen’s speech to comfort her employees was a great approach. She took an awkward situation and turned it into a learning opportunity. However, I must admit that if I was one of Karen’s employees I would not be convinced or comforted in the least bit. Even if Tara’s firing was warranted, I know that there is no such thing as job security. In this economy, people are blind sided by a let go every day even if they are a stellar workers just because the numbers don’t add up. It’s the reason, I decided to quit my job and become a self employed entrepreneur. So even if Karen was genuine in saying that no one would be blindsided, I would still be a bit skeptical. But as I said earlier, Karen’s approach was definitely impressive.

    • Thanks, Terri, for adding your thoughts to the conversation. You capture the insecurity felt by so many people these days. And, you’re right that even with Karen’s clear communication people may still feel insecure, especially because some of the “trimming the staff” decisions may not be Karen’s to make – but for her superiors. In her growing company, however, I’m not aware of people being dismissed for reasons other than poor performance, but your point is well taken and will surely resonate with others.

    • Debbie, Thanks so much for your comment and for adding such a great example of how clear and non-defensive communication can save the day! I can imagine how empowering this experience was for you. The difference in values across generations is another important perspective. Good for you for recognizing that as the issue and finding your best way to surface it for a good discussion.

  3. Each time I read a blog post by Jamie I think back to a time in my career when I could have used her insight and wisdom! Even though I am not faced with work related, day to day decisions anymore because I am retired, her thoughts inform my decisions in other parts of my life. Thank you! I am looking forward to reading more blog posts and your book!

    • Thanks, Nancy, for reading and leaving such a lovely comment. For anyone interested in a truly inspiring book check out Nancy’s moving and humorous memoir, Radical Survivor!

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