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
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
So what if it happens to you? Here are some
that might help:
* Bear in mind that,
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
* 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,
* It's okay to fire someone who
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
* 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.