Telling an employee that they are no longer required –is one of the toughest things I’ve had to do in the two decades of my work life; letting go of colleagues whom I’ve hired, reasons aside, it’s not something I want to remember with pride. But there is a need for every manager to keep in touch with the needs of an organization with the most debatable being “performance” and separating the employees in question. All said, it’s often as hard (if not more difficult) on the bearer of the news as it is to the receiver.
We were in the midst of a major organisation transition when I was tasked to “separate” a senior colleague – someone whom I personally hired just 4 years before and whom I honoured with an appreciation the previous year for having the best turnaround unit. Nevertheless, the new bosses were decisive that his role was redundant in the new structure and as his transitioning boss, I was left to close the gap. It took me close to 2 days to sit him down to deliver the bad news as I knew that he had 2 teenaged children with higher education commitments. Suffice to say I felt regretful having to tell him that he has been involuntarily released in the midst of a recession hit economy!
But I guess he knew that the axe was soon to be dropped on him. When I finally gathered the courage to break the news, he said, “it’s been clear to me from the onset that they want me to go but I wanted to put in my resignation only after hearing it from you!” Looking back at my relationship with that colleague, we stopped meeting and keeping in touch after the incident. Can you blame either of us?
For a manager, running a business is hard enough; adding in the politics and legitimacies of employee dismissals makes it even harder! Managers are human too and I found it hard to keep my emotions in check whenever I have to dismiss an employee. It’s seemed easier to have a self-conversation that focuses on the future or the mandate of the organization than facing the naked truth – which the time spent with our employees produces relationships that transcends the four walls of the office; making dismissals something nobody enjoys!
Fortunately, in a rapidly changing workplace and as a result of post-recession, colleagues and subordinates are somewhat more primed in facing the harsh realities of dismissals. It surprises me how fast we get over conversations around forced separations today as compared to yesteryears. It’s less about “you versus me” and more about “let’s move on”. Could it be that I have aged and can better manage these conversations?
This brings me to a conversation which I recently had with one of my clients who had to release one of his direct reports upon instruction from the Super Boss. He decided to take the “easy” route – he called his subordinate and told him the truth. The reportee stunned him by resigning within 5 minutes of the conversation when he had spent weeks deliberating on how to break the news to the affected person! His take was if you don’t want me, I will walk and Hell with you!
People who work with us are more mature than we give credit them and have amazing ability to pick on subtle hints and contexts on how much they are valued within an organization. More often than not, they will choose to leave with ‘dignity’ over being “forced” out. But for the few who are not sure about the eventuality, a swift conversation should do the job quite nicely. After all, there are not many employees who enjoy sitting through the pain of long conversations on their separations even if it always seems unfair!