Firing A Leader

Firing a leader is never easy.  It’s someone who is well-liked, popular with their co-workers, their direct reports and members of management.  They are highly visible and have traditionally been a decent employee with outstanding achievements in their past. This person doesn’t have to be in a high position of authority or have a large staff reporting to them, they simply are seen as a leader by their peers.  In terms of getting laid off or fired, often times this staff member is perceived as untouchable by fellow employees.  For whatever reason, it’s time for their termination.  People will notice their absence.  This will be a sticky situation for you and for everyone employed by the company.  How you handle the firing of everyone’s favorite co-worker will greatly affect the workplace in the aftermath.

The decision to dismiss a leader should not be taken lightly as there most assuredly will be unfavorable repercussions.  To best prevent these repercussions from spinning out of control, have a plan in place for the process of dismissal and the handling of events after the employee has left before you fire them.

Operations
This should be obvious.  Decide how the favored employee’s tasks will be completed after their termination.  Will you fill the role immediately?  Will there need to be an interim plan until a replacement is hired?  Regardless of how and when or if a replacement is brought on board, detail a careful plan of action to ensure these job responsibilities are adequately covered..  Without it, your remaining staff members will suffer.  Don’t put your employees in the position of having to scramble to get tasks done, take on responsibilities for which they have no training or overwhelm them with an increased workload.  Be fair and realistic when mapping out how business will carry on.  

Announcement To Remaining Staff
Scope out what you will say (and not say) to inform your remaining staff members of the leader’s dismissal.  It’s imperative to tell them in a timely manner.  If employees are left in the dark to wonder what happened, they’ll speculate… resulting in rumors and misunderstandings.  There’s no reason to sacrifice your employer brand to gossip around the water cooler.  Communicating this sensitive subject matter is best handled face to face.  Don’t be a chicken!  It will be an uncomfortable conversation and could be intimidating to face the masses; after all, the remaining employees may potentially see you as the bad guy.  However, meeting in person will allow you to show genuine sensitivity as opposed to a cold hearted email.  By respectfully referring to the terminated employee and treating them with dignity, some of the remaining staff may not hold a grudge.  By delivering the news in person, you can control the message and you can also determine what kind of feedback you’ll receive by the looks on their faces.  Be prepared for initial anger and remember that it will most likely pass.  Face to face meetings also serve as an opportunity to clear up any rumors or points of concern immediately, before they get any worse.  Be sure to inform your employees of an organized plan for operations going forward.  Employees should not have any questions as to who will now be responsible for the favored employees’ duties and how/if their role is affected.

Prevent Fruit Basket Turnover
Be prepared for morale to drop.  Clear communication will prevent rumors from spreading and spooking your remaining staff into leaving your company for a competitor where things seem more stable.  Engage in initiatives to ensure a positive work environment and experience for remaining staff members.  Boost recognition for top performers.  Reward employees who are doing an excellent job and look for opportunities to reinforce good work habits.  Use this sensitive time to explain more clearly and reiterate what you expect from your employees.  Also call upon poor performers to improve and don’t be afraid to take disciplinary action if performance or behavior warrants it.  If underperformers are given a free pass during this sensitive time, it may appear as if the leader was unjustly terminated.

Announcement To External Audiences
In some cases, it may be necessary to issue a press release for an employee in the public eye.  As in addressing your internal audiences, be sure to handle the terminated employee with respect and dignity.  Not doing so will be damaging to your employer brand and may pave the way to backlash from the terminated employee.  Be ready with a draft announcement targeted toward external audiences when the termination takes place.  Afterward, make any appropriate adjustments before issuing a statement to the public.

Crisis Management
Treat this employee fairly in their termination to minimize the chances of any backlash. Have all of your ducks in a row regarding just reasons as to why the favored employee is going to be dismissed.  Hopefully, this person will not pursue legal action, but be prepared in the event that they do.  Be mindful that the terminated employee and/or current employees may react negatively and could publicly bad-mouth your company. With the prevalence of social media, everyone now has a free platform to voice just how they feel about your organization.  Plan to call upon your brand evangelists to combat any negative sentiments.

Remember, in sticky situations like this, there is a silver lining.  The favored employee will land another job as they’ve proven in the past they are a capable worker.  They’ll begin down a new path, with a new company, which is most likely a better fit for them. Though letting go of a favored employee is an unpleasant task, it can create opportunities for company growth and positive change.



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Thomas Delorme
Written by Thomas Delorme

VP, Digital Products & Strategy

1 Comment

  1. kathyknorrchicago

    timely article Katien, as NPR will have quite a fruit basket turnover on their floor with the firing of Juan Wiliams for expressing his personal opinions. It will be interesting to follow as senior and well respected and followed leaders in their industry are let go . . . over – what could have been less of a fluff had the crisis management team had listened to their audiences and followers (tweets, blogs, etc.) more closely.

    Love my NPR, yet not this decision.

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