Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Art of Firing Someone

I was at a birthday party today and saw someone that I worked with many years ago.  In fact, I fired her.

I have only been fired once.  I was Christmas help at Macy's and was not kept on after the holidays.  They ripped up my time card in front of me.

BUT, I have fired many people.  I would say, over my 15+ year career...maybe...25?  30?  For a variety of reasons.  Cut backs, incompetence, borderline sexual harassment, being high at work, bringing a weapon to work, you name it.

I have honed my technique over the years.  A matter of fact, I probably honed it over the course of ONE afternoon about 6 or 7 years ago when I had to let 8 people go in one day due to budget cuts.

Get to the objective quick, then qualify your reasons.  I call it "The Band Aid Technique."  Management training tells you you should fire someone on their turf so they do not have to do the walk of shame back to their desk, but most of the people I have fired worked in common spaces or shared offices so I didn't think that was appropriate.  Plus, I can be a softy so I feel like my office puts them on guard a little and takes some of the pressure off me.

I ask them to come in and sit down.  I do not say, "How's it going?" or "What's up?"  I get right to the point.  "I'm sorry ___________, but we have to let you go."  No time to squirm, no time to work themselves up into a froth.  I then follow it up with my reasons to show it was a logical decision.  I then rise, cueing them to rise, shake their hand and walk them to the door.

It seems cold but I actually think it is the most respectful.  I was in the room when a coworker fired someone once.  He dragged it out so long, "You know, we've been thinking, you do a great job, but we have discussed some issues in the past, so what it all comes down to is..."  PAINFUL.  I could see the person squirming, half listening to what was being said.  The other of their brain was racing, thinking, "Oh my God am I getting fired?  I think I am getting fired.  Is he about to fire me?"

Also, don't make it about you.  "This was very tough for me" or "I have been up nights thinking about this."  You know what?  The person who is walking out that door unemployed has it much worse than you so shut the fuck up.  They are having a crappier day than you.

For the most part, the Band Aid Technique works.  Every once in a while someone will cry, or get pissed and yell, or list the reasons why they shouldn't be fired.  I once fired someone after months of giving them warnings and finally an ultimatum, "If this next project is not good I have to let you go."  When I finally did let him go he sat there and for 10 minutes repeated, "Well, this comes as quite a shock.  I really am taken aback.  Where is this coming from?"

Most recently I fired someone and she literally refused to leave my office.  She wanted to rehash the situation over and over again.  I wrapped it up several times but she wouldn't get up from the chair.  I finally had to physically escort her from the building (making sure not to touch her once.)  The capper was the next day when I was told she was looking into having Al Sharpton contact me.

So if you are going to fire someone, besides making sure you are all taken care of from the Human Resources and Legal angles, do it quick.  Be brief, be respectful and be strong.

Trump has the right idea.

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