Saturday, February 28, 2009

Hard Messages - Letting Employees Go

Remember to SOFTEN the ax!I am working for a healthy and profitable company and have not had to deliver these hard messages. And I hope I do not need to deliver them anytime soon. But this week I saw good advice on

How to execute orders from head office to pare down the workforce as a means of reducing cost?

Because the reductions will be general in nature, the most common reaction of the local management is to deal with the problem in a general way as well – usually by sending emails or having mass meetings. However mass communications of a negative nature almost never work.

The following series of tips help to make firings and other hard messages more palatable, both to those staying and those leaving:

  • Keep it legal: be familiar with your company's rules of employment and relevant labor law.
  • LISTEN. Everyone knows this is key, but how good are you at empathizing? Are you sure you're giving the right level of feedback?
  • Do NOT fire on a Friday! Early in the week gives people time to sort out issues, have support from colleagues, and to not fall into despair over the weekend.
  • Similarly, earlier in the month is better, and after holidays, not before.
  • Keep it private. As an example of what not to do, one company actually held an off-site seminar and gave everyone an envelope: some with blue notes (keeping their jobs) and some with yellow (losing their jobs). They then held a "farewell dinner" afterwards, at the same location, for those leaving.
  • Except in extreme cases, there's no reason to have security accompany the person off the premises. Avoid humiliating the person.
  • Keep the meeting brief, and to the point, but allow your soon-to-be-former staff to vent, without you becoming defensive.
  • Losing a job is shocking news for most people, unless you've done the performance monitoring right all along. Some people will immediately go into denial and not even realize they're being terminated. You need to make it very clear that the decision has been made and is final.
  • Be open from the start of the conversation about your own feelings. If true, something like, "This is going to be a difficult is tough for me."
  • Avoid making any promises or phrases like, "I'm sure everything will work out all right."
  • Be prepared with what assistance your company is offering--counseling, interview coaching, or other outplacement help.
  • Remember, the person you fire will have an impact beyond him/herself. They can cause others to leave, or lower morale of those who remain, or they can become still positive spokespeople for your firm.
  • How they perceive you as a manager is how they will perceive your company.
The full article was published by Terrie Lloyd, an influencer on the foreign business community in Japan. It is based on advice from our mutual friend Andrew Silberman, whose company is my partner on our HR training needs. Two years ago Andrew and his team gave me the book that started this blog.

Thank you Andrew and Terrie. I hope I do not need this advice in large scale anytime soon. I decided to blog it anyway, because my blog exists ”to summarize and internalize the knowledge I need during my management career.” Even if I hate it, I am sure I will need it during the next 20 odd years of my career.


Anonymous said...

Dear Samuli,

Quite recently I went through a similar kind of procedure, first as an employee and then after as a decision maker. The first experience was quite opposite to the list and I felt really really bad. After the first experience it was extremely terrible to be in the position to announce layoffs - no matter in which way they were executed - terrible individual tragedies anyway.

There will always be layoffs, but after reading an article in the latest edition of the Finnish business magazine, called Talouselämä, written by a leadership consultant Mr. Pentti Sydänmaalakka, I fully agree with the writer about the major difficulties and causes of problems in today's leadership culture. I'm not sure if he means only the Finnish leadership culture, but Mr. Sydänmaalakka says that there is a clear conflict between the old leadership generation with it's leadership principle of "order, control and correct" and the new generation with a principle "feel inspired, insprire others and be an innovator". Looking back to my career, I have a great respect on Mr. Sydänmaalakka's opinion. Coincidently, in the same Magazine the new CEO of one of the biggest construction companies in Finland says " important the feedback is for the encouragement and for to carry out changes in the organizations."

Most probably there is a big risk of facing lot of difficulties to implement Terrie Lloyd's list of actions for those, who have always been favoring the "old" leadership style mentioned above.


Samuli said...

Dear Daddy,

Thank you fo another good comment! You are becoming a regular commentor on my blog.

I could not find the article you referred to from Talouselämä online, yet, but will ask around for it.

I consider myself belonging to the new leadership generation with a principle "feel inspired, insprire others and be an innovator". It will be another story how much challenges this causes when dealing with the Japanese leadership style, which is still clearly defined as old generation of "order, control and correct", but with a cultural tendency of always sustaining the harmony.

This certainly involves a risk like you mention, and the cultural difference multiply the risk.

Below a few links which will help understand

- how Japanese management system is starting to change

- how Japanese leadership style is a mixture of "order, control and correct" but most of all maintain harmony.

Dealing with these cultural differences is one of the main drivers of my blog.

Anonymous said...

Hi Samuli,

You can find Mr. Sydänmaalakka's comments in the "stakeholder magazine" of Talentum - inside the latest edition of Talouselämä. Mr. Sydänmaalakka will publish his new book in April and it's called "Jatkuva uudistuminen - luovuuden ja innovatiivisuden johtaminen (in Finnish something like "Continuous Transformation - Leading Creativity and Innovation".