When 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