Tucker Max, Co-Founder and CEO of Book In A Box wrote an article last week about firing people and having them thank you for it. That seems like the craziest thing on the planet--no one wants to get fired--and no one likes firing. (Even the most horrible of bosses prefer to get people to resign.) Is Max off his rocker or is he right?
As someone who has been involved in the termination of literally thousands of people, I can say whole-heartedly that what he is saying is not only true but how you should be firing all along.
Now, Max speaks about true firings--where you are terminating the person and not the position. The bulk of my experience involves layoffs, where the person not only loses her position, but the company eliminates the position altogether. There's a slightly different approach, but Max's ideas work both ways.
Max has three rules that he follows for firing.
- Transition from coaching them up to coaching them out.
- Make the dismissal about their dignity and humanity, not corporate HR rules.
- Let them know you will support them, and then actually do it.
All three of these steps are critical to a "good firing." Now, of course, there are sometimes when you're firing for cause--like stealing or sexual harassment--and you shouldn't worry about the person thanking you in that case. You need to protect your business, but if you are firing someone because of performance, follow Max's steps.
But what about layoffs? You can't really coach the person because they don't need to improve, the business does. And, often layoffs are done without notice (which I highly recommend), which means there are no chances to help the person find a new job before termination. So, when you've just yanked a job out from under someone, can you still do it so they thank you later?
Yes, and here's how.
1. Offer severance.
Max says this is critical in firing--he likes to give two months severance. It's extra critical in layoffs, and I'd say three months is a minimum amount for a layoff. More if you can swing it. Severance allows your former employee to not stress too much about money while they look for a new job. Severance isn't required by law, except in extreme cases, but it should be your company policy from day one.
2. Never, ever, oppose unemployment.
You should do this with straight firing as well. Lots of managers like to force resignations and then fight unemployment. Guaranteed, this will build bitterness in your former employee, and most unemployment offices will side with the employee anyway. Take the advice of employment attorney, Robin Shea and don't oppose unemployment.
3. Treat the employee with respect.
You trusted this employee up until you dropped the bomb on him, so why do you have a security guard standing watch over him while he packs up his desk? Because he might run off with his laptop? Really? I've been involved in thousands of layoffs and the worst we ever dealt with was an employee throwing a stapler. Seriously. You can trust your employee to pack up his own desk.
4. Help the employee find a new job.
Max focuses on this and it's easier when you're coaching them for months before termination. In a layoff, it's harder because the person is gone from the office. But, make sure you do this and do it sincerely.
This means no lip service of "whatever I can do for you!" and then doing nothing. Go over their resumes and cover letters. Give positive and honest references when asked for them. Offer outplacement services. Help your former employee network. All these things can result in your former employee landing a great new job.
Companies often don't like to hire the unemployed, but if the candidate can say, "I was laid off from Company X, but my boss from there is happy to be a reference," it goes a long way towards helping that candidate land the job. The recruiter and hiring manager know that their termination was due to a true layoff and not a disguised performance issue.
5. Keep in contact.
Lots of people drop their former employees like hot potatoes. Now, this isn't because of cruelty, it's because of practicality. When you have a layoff, you lose people but rarely lose workload, so you're swamped. Drop your former employees an email every once in a while to check in. Ask if they need help. Give that help when needed.
6. Rehire when appropriate.
If your company has one of those stupid policies about not hiring someone who has been laid off, lobby your HR department to change that. Why on earth would you want to reject a known good performer over an unknown person? When layoffs are rumored, plenty of people start looking for new jobs. Some who aren't on the layoff list end up finding them and quitting after the layoffs are complete. This means you have positions open up unexpectedly. If you know your former employee would be a good fit, hire her!
Firing and laying people off are difficult things to do, but if you do it right, your former employees will end up better off than they were working for you. And that's what you want for them, so do everything in your power to make that happen.