You're Fired! By Bill Catlette and Richard Hadden
May 2005

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In this issue...
  • You're Fired!
  • Hear it straight from the cow's - er - horse's mouth
  • Dinged Up Paperbacks Available at Big Savings

  • You're Fired!

    By Richard Hadden and Bill Catlette

    You're Fired! Two little words (or big ones, depending on where you're sitting) that have recently found a home in the popular lexicon through the success of Donald Trump's television show, "The Apprentice".

    Whether the actual word "fired" is used, or such euphemisms as "let go", "terminated", or our favorite - "released back into the workforce", it rarely feels good - to either party - and is almost always a sign that somebody has made an error (or a series of them) of significant proportion.

    In the "Can't argue with success" department, former GE CEO Jack Welch made a name for himself ("Neutron Jack") with a policy that was commonly interpreted to mean routinely firing the bottom 10% of your workforce, based on performance. Lots of people over the years have taken issue with what they saw as an arbitrary formula, and if indeed it was arbitrary, we'd take issue with it, too.

    But an interesting interview published in USA Today on April 17, 2005, indicates that Welch's approach is less about a rigid number of 10%, and more about rewarding top performers and, yes, ridding the company of those who aren't getting the job done.

    The article, available, as of this writing, at this link, sheds some much needed light on how Welch describes what others have termed "rank-and- yank", and what he calls "differentiation".

    "Rank and yank is not what differentiation's about," Welch said to reporter Del Jones. "It's about letting people know where they stand, how far they can go and the things they can improve on."

    Welch adds, "This is not precise. This is taking care of your very best, being sure the valued middle is cared for, and weeding out the weakest. I don't have a magic number. I've always talked about 10%, but it might be 7% one year and 15% the next."

    We think that "taking care of your best - and weeding out the weakest" is good policy, especially if your goal is to create a better, and more profitable workplace. If you don't believe us, ask your top performers.

    So what if it happens to you? Here are some ideas that might help:
    * Bear in mind that, despite the way it feels, the decision is probably not personal.
    * Learn from it. Take an honest look in the mirror. Somehow, you got yourself into a situation that didn't work.
    * Realize that today, there are few, if any, social stigmas. Divorce, pregnancy without marriage, and yes, getting fired, have all been more or less de- stigmatized in recent years. In fact, we'd say that anyone who has made it to age 30 without having been asked to leave at least one job is leading a rather incomplete life, and is perhaps guilty of playing it way too close to the middle of the road.
    * Don't waste one minute of your precious time being bitter about the matter. Just like a kid learning to ride a bike, get up, dust yourself off, and get going.
    * Realize that your best 'networking' opportunities don't come to you by suddenly contacting everybody you know whom you've failed to keep in contact with for the last 11 years.

    Our advice is, if you haven't already incorporated this as a habit, begin NOW to conduct routine maintenance on those relationships that COULD, repeat COULD prove instrumental in the future. Even if (especially if) you don't anticipate ever being in a position to need a helping hand, offer one, as a matter of course, to those in your network, whatever that may be. This is an investment that never does you or anyone else any harm, and any way you look at it, it WILL come back to you.

    And if you find yourself in the painful predicament of being between opportunities, by option of your previous employer, as unconventional as it may seem, spend the time that would have been consumed by being bitter doing something for those who are worse off than you are. Wherever you live, there are public schools, hospitals, and community organizations that would greatly benefit from a few volunteer hours each week, when you're not busy searching for your next employer. Until you retire, you probably won't get many chances to give "until if feels good" again.

    When you are doing the dastardly deed, remember that:
    * It's okay to fire someone who simply doesn't fit with your organization, and who never should have been hired in the first place. Don't get sucked into trying to build a case on nonexistent performance issues. Be honest. This employment relationship isn't working for any of the parties involved, and it's best to end it sooner rather than later.
    * If your decision IS based on performance matters, you'd better have a clear and reasonably documented demonstration that the person knew what was expected, that they had the tools and opportunity to succeed, and that they had been given reasonable notice and chance to improve.
    * If, counter to the above recommendation, you are not currently being as honest as you can about performance problems, change your way of working NOW. Having developed a reputation for telling the truth about performance makes the firing decision a lot easier to justify - to yourself, the employee, and the people who went to law school. Even Jack Welch acknowledges you can't start firing your lower performers without first having built a good system of performance management.
    * One of the biggest mistakes is waiting too long. Doing so is a fraud on the individual involved, and is likely demotivating to those around them.
    * Whenever possible (almost always), allow the person to fall on their own sword (resign with honor). There is seldom any advantage to having blood on the floor.
    * This is no time for bravado (no points awarded in heaven or on earth for the number of notches on your weapon). Having to tell someone they can't work with your organization any longer should be one of the hardest things you ever have to do. If it ever becomes easy or doesn't bother you a lot, find something else to do.
    * Learn from your (that's right, YOUR) mistake. Did you hire this person? If so, did you perform due diligence beforehand? Did you provide them with every opportunity to do well in the job? Did you let personal biases or other feelings get in the way of your being a leader for this person?
    * If, as a manager, you can't or won't step up to the plate and exercise your paid responsibility in this area, make room on the bench for someone who will. Call us outrageous, but if you've been a manager for more than five years or so and haven't fired anyone, chances are you've missed at least one opportunity somewhere along the way. We can't believe your hiring is that flawless.
    * Rest assured that how you treat people on their way out is being watched and noted by a lot of other folks who are simultaneously forming an opinion about how you would treat them under similar circumstances. If you are counting on their discretionary effort, you can't have them wondering if you would mistreat them.
    * Get (and pay close attention to) the advice of a competent HR professional. If you're convinced that you are being asked to unreasonably keep Omarosa around for another few weeks, by all means challenge the advice, but don't get bull-headed.

    Hear it straight from the cow's - er - horse's mouth

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    Dinged Up Paperbacks Available at Big Savings

    You know how it is when you've been on the road for a while. The same goes for our paperback version of Contented Cows. After a few trips back and forth from one convention to another, or back from the distributor, they start to show just a few signs of travel fatigue. Same great book inside, but maybe with a corner or two turned up. While they've never actually been used, we can't really sell them as new. Our loss is your gain. These books are available, while supplies last, at our Contented Cows Online Store, for only 8 bucks (US). To order, click here.

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