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Is ‘Firing’ a necessary skill?

With the growth in workforce and high demand for talent we introduced Talent Acquisition as a specialization in HR. With increased volatility and economic fluctuations, do organisations need to have specialized teams for Talent Separation?

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“I don’t know what to do with Kumar, results are poor but he seems to be clocking the hours, his team is happy to have him as a supervisor”I told my boss sounding confused. “Is it a capability problem or intent problem” he asked me in return, “if it’s a capability problem, spend time with him, if it’s an intent problem you know what to do” he said and walked off. That was the first time I got an input on how to evaluate team members before taking a call on them. But 15 years since then that clarity still eludes me when it comes to decisions related to firing. As much as leaders and organisations brag about talent as the heart of their strategy, seldom do we follow it up consistently.

Multiple situations force us to think of our own colleagues as dispensable; some of these are unavoidable, many contextually right, few of these we do to keep our job and most often to cover our own lack of timely intervention.

Let me list the likely situations which result in forced exits of colleagues, some are obvious and some strange

  • Integrity violation, Integrity is a loaded word but it covers a range of transgressions from financial irregularities to sexual harassment, many a times these are reasonably straightforward.
  • Organisation is under-performing and manpower cuts allow cost savings in the short term
  • There is a M& A situation and the roles are overlapping due to the new combination
  • Change in strategy, focus on new business line which renders certain departments redundant.
  • Colleague is consistently under performing and the results are below par.
  • The behavior of the colleague is experienced as toxic or unprofessional consistently
  • The chemistry with the team or the boss is simply not there.
  • You suddenly discover that your colleague’s spouse is working with your direct competitor in a key role, statistically insignificant but does happen!
  • You find the supervisor having an affair with reportee, some of the organisations do consider this abuse of power!

I have listed what my limited experience has allowed me to remember, I am sure you can add more to the list.

Firing like hiring is a special skill, it’s not something you use every day but something you keep in the repository for a rainy day. I once witnessed one of my colleagues asking in a job interview if she had fired anybody in her career. She was stunned by the question, but to give the right ‘interview answer’ she went on to explain how shemotivated her team and everybody always performed under her and never had to fire anybody. She was promptly rejected, when I quizzed my colleague he said, “first it’s difficult to believe that all team members perform all the time, second firing is a necessary experience, if I am hiring a manager I want somebody who brings that skill too” he quipped. Unlike setting goals, engaging, reviewing & directing which are required on a daily basis, one rarely uses firing skills, so why is it critical I wondered. “Have you ever fired anybody” he asked? Those days I was a rookie and my boss used to do it for me, I said “no, but I think I can”. I felt if It was the need of the hourI could do it too, all I need to dois tocommunicate with clarityto the colleague at a private place without violating his/her dignity. But I was wrong, I experienced much later in my life how challenging it is to fire your own colleague.

 Few things one goes through during the firing period is worth summarising

  • Losing sleep everyday while making the decision, asking yourself frequently if it’s the right decision
  • Every day seeing the colleague and worrying if you are affecting the person’s livelihood, your own interactions with your targeted colleague in this phase is likely to be evasive or cold depending on your mental makeup. Sometimes this helps and acts as a heads-up to the person on what’s coming.
  • How the remaining colleagues would react if they got to know (nothing remains a secret), will we create a situation of fear or lower morale?
  • The biggest challenge is in the “situation room” when you are with your colleague, as much as you are prepared for the legality/technicality of the firing it’s difficult to prepare for the emotional outburst of your colleague. Some of them cry, few hurl accusations of victimisation, some plead to reverse the decision or some ask for more time to prove themselves, some of the stronger ones threaten to go legal, or ask for a better severance pay. But most of them out of self-esteem or fear of shame say,‘let’s get over it’ and resign immediately.
  • The difficult part is losing the relationship post the separation and how to keep status quo at work with other colleagues. This pretense of nothing happened or trying to justify that it was a rightful firing to other colleagues is the hardest part.

So, what are the essentials to be good at firing people? Is it a skill or Mindset? First thing you need to have is authority, when you are in in a seat of power the necessary responsibility to make the call and the superiority mindset to fire would come with it, in todays and tomorrow’s world every manager needs to develop this mindset thatfiring their team members is part of their career path whether they like it or not. This Mindset cannot be developed by attending any course but comes through years of dealing with volatile situations. Ability to rationalize is another essential trait for people to be comfortable while firing colleagues.

Many times, it isn’t about right or wrong, but purely about the context or circumstance. Most often people do it because they have to. For that very reason, your ability to rationalize to yourself gives the strength to do the firing without guilt. Yes, Karma can come back at you, but holding back for that reason can render you weak. I was once procrastinating a decision to fire one of my team members till my boss told me if I didn’t, he would do it himself. That did the trick and I promptly executed his order to save myself the embarrassment.

One’s tough image also allows them to execute the firing orders at ease, one of my friends was in his notice period with his employer, his successors asked him to fire one of their senior employees. They felt his strong personality would convince the senior employee to resign without much fuss and for the rest of the organisation his participation would serve as an endorsement to the decision.

Firing is a mindset which can become a skill for people who can rationalize that as an additional aspect of the job.

Imagine just like Talent Acquisition departments if we had Talent Separation Departments, you think they would be an aspiring department to work for?

As far as all the people whom I have fired so far, will you accept if I say it wasn’t me, but the moment?


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