On Firing People

May 23, 2008 Published under Entrepreneurship and Management

I hate the term "firing" an employee – along with today’s corporate culture of swift, cold departures that fits and imbues the term.  Today’s prevalent system for leaving a company or organization is unnecessarily inefficient and impersonal.  There are much better ways to approach this.

It is never pleasant letting a team member go, or having a team member leave, whether at a company or organization.  But some smart steps can improve the situation for both parties.

Both at PeaceWorks/KIND and at the PeaceWorks Foundation/OneVoice, I have tried to cultivate a culture where, other than cases of wilful grave misconduct, nobody is just terminated with 2 weeks notice, but rather coached to try to redress shortcomings, often succeeding in doing so. 

By inverse, team members don’t just give notice and leave within 2 weeks. Instead, if a team member feels for personal or professional growth reasons that they need to move on, we have an early and open discussion to explore it, and if it’s the final choice, we work together on a transition plan where they interview, hire, and train their replacements, while they work on their own personal transition, potentially including looking for a job in parallel.  There is an honor code in the PeaceWorks Group that team members do not search for a job under the radar, without first sharing their intent to do so with the CEO or person they report to. 

What is the upside to the team member? First of all, we often reward those who ensure a smooth and responsible transition.  More important to their professional growth, we never hold back on promotions or further areas of responsibility and growth.  The trust enables us to advance them and empower them much faster.  With both parties feeling such responsibility and partnership, it is so much easier to invest in your team without feeling threatened that a sudden departure would leave a hole in the organization.

Of course this is not a perfect system and not every team member abides by it, but in our "family" of 50-60 team members across 3 continents, it has acquired an ethos that colleagues feel strongly and proud about.

This alternative to surreptitious interviews and surprise firings requires a culture that welcomes open communications about team members’ interests and professional growth, where you not only don’t chastise but actually encourage people to openly discuss their career options with the person they report to, with that person acting as a friend and coach thinking about how to grow the team member within the organization if at all possible.

The corollary to the above is that you do a lot more organic growth and hiring from within.  Team members grow much faster, there are more opportunities for advancement, and the company or organization also grows stronger and faster.

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  1. Letting People go in an NGO | Daniel Lubetzky said:

    [...] to and independent of the prior posting, I’ve noticed that letting someone go in an NGO (when that is the right and necessary path) [...]

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