Worst Five Ways to Fire Someone

by Tribal Leadership on April 3, 2008

If you have never been fired, then you either work at a Stage Two company where under-achieving is rewarded, or you’ve chosen not to be completely honest when your boss says, “Do you have any feedback for me?” Odds are that at some point you:

•    “Did not see eye-to-eye with management.”
•    “Chose to go freelance”
•    “Wanted to spend more time with family”
•    “Were unware the sexual harassment laws had changed.”

But if you’re lucky, you’re the person on the other end of this conversation. And for you, we would like to offer the top five worst ways to let people go, generously sponsored by the Stage Three Boss Association and the Scranton Ohio Rotary Club.

#5 “Disappear them.”
A person in our Tribal Leadership study told us that he arranged lunch with a co-worker in the morning, and when the time came he went to her cubicle to find no trace of her existence.  When he asked what happened to her, the answer from a colleague was “she’s been disappeared.”  It’s as though we’re back in Pharaoh’s Day, and her name had been scrubbed from every monument…well, memo and e-mail address book…in the land.

Quick and efficient? Yes. But how does this contrast with that consultant-crafted mission statement that HR used in the overpriced plaque on the wall?  “Our workplace is innovative, collaborative, enthusiastic, with a sense of mission, filled with workers who would do anything for each other.”  They forgot to add… “in which any member can fired for any reason with the others not missing a beat.”

Bottom-line is you can’t have it both ways.  That person you got to know—that you spent more quality time with than your family, is gone—so you’re less likely to form your friendships here.  Trust is driven out of the system as fast as that employees’ pictures come off their desks.

#4 Highlight “personal reasons.”
In 99% of cases, this phrase, if run through Dilbert’s decoder ring, translates to “you all know we hate him, he was fired, thank God he’s gone, …now get back to work.”  People who leave companies through this method usually lost some high-profile fights, and endured weeks or months of public flogging to remove any trace of self-esteem.  This method is also useful when management hired the wrong person, and “for personal reasons,” is much easier to type than, “this was our mistake, and we wish him well.”

#3 Resignation effective two weeks from today.
This method is most useful when someone still has self-esteem left.  Having her leave under these circumstances might send the message that seeking employment elsewhere may not be so bad.  During the two weeks between announced departure and leaving the building for the last time, the lame duck goes to meetings and learns just how irrelevant she is.  She has time alone to detach—one of the hallmarks of Stage Two—and so, when she leaves, she’s tired, despondent, and unprepared to seek another opportunity.

#2 The security escort out of the building.
Useful when remaining employees need to be reminded that you hold all the power.

#1 The walk of the shame.
The ritual of packing up photos and coffee mugs into a single box (with or without the plant on top) and walking past the survivors is a nice recollection of simpler times: like when French aristocrats walked past the people on their way to a beheading.

It’s like we’re in Hester Prin’s day, but instead of wearing an “A,” the person who leaves invisible sign says “My life sucks”—the hallmark of Stage Two—as a warning to those who remain.  This can happen to you, too, so don’t get out of line.

What’s the effect of these methods of removing people from companies?  The focus of attention becomes “me.”  Is this going to happen to me?  Am I liked, trusted, thought of as competent?  Is there a move to get rid of me I don’t know about?  This is where information becomes the coin of the realm, and gossip, the way to stay solvent. And all the Stage Three tools of self-promotion, time management, and subtle put-downs come in handy.

The bosses of such systems take the brunt of people’s scorn.  “Does he really think we’re so stupid as not see what really happened?”, people gossip.  Ask the bosses (we did), and many say, “I’d like to tell the truth, but HR and Legal say doing so would put us risk of liability.”

All of this makes the modern workplace a chaotic system of rumor, fear, self-promotion, and survival by wits and guts.  Are there ways around this system?  Yes, but they all start with leaders recognizing the current system is as ineffective, inhumane, incompetent, and self-contradictory.  We’ll talk about those methods in a future blog.

by Dave Logan

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