Guest Column By Lee Thayer
Firing someone is often a distasteful, sometimes painful, act. It is the end of something. Hiring someone is usually full of hope and expectation. It can be exciting. It is the beginning of something.
Yet you don’t learn much when you hire someone. It often turns out to be not all you had hoped.
You could learn a great deal about yourself and about others from the process of firing someone, however.
If you can do a better job of firing, you could do a better job of hiring. The most direct way of learning how to do a better job of hiring lies in what you can learn from the process of firing.
- Hope and wishful thinking clouds your perspectives when you are hiring someone. But when you fire someone, you are challenged to understand why.
- Firing can clear the lenses. It can be – ought to be – a very rational process. If you do it right, you are dealing with bedrock criteria, not wishful thinking.
- If you can figure out why and how and when to fire someone, it will clarify why you went wrong in the first place.
- If you did a perfect job of hiring people, you would have a perfect understanding of how to fire people. But most organizations haven’t done a better job of hiring people in spite of the tsunami of advice about how to do it.
- You have to come at it the other way around. There is no reliable recipe for doing a perfect job of hiring. You have to learn from your failures – as all leaders have had to do.
- It is figuring out who needs to be fired and why that provides the clarity needed to get better and better at hiring.
There are always the conventional reasons for firing someone: poor performance, redundancy, obsolescence, RIF, attitude, and myriad others. There are reasons. And then there are the real reasons.
It is these real reasons the chief executive needs to uncover. You have to plow through the verbiage and your own thinking to arrive at the real reasons. Was it a poor hire? Was it just a poor “fit”? Was it the culture of the organization that was at fault? Was it the attitude of the person’s peers? Was it the person’s boss? Could it even be you?
Done well, this kind of forensic exploration begins to illuminate better hiring practices by starting with reality rather than the jargon of the day.
To the person targeted for being fired, there is often no correlation between the reasons offered and that person’s assessment of his or her own performance. Big clue.
Here is the crunch issue:
The person being fired was probably not told at the time of hiring the specific reasons that might lead to dismissal.
Three mistakes were likely made:
- The person was probably provided with a list of activities to be performed. That’s the way conventional “job descriptions” are constructed. There may have been some past experience or credentials thrown in for the company to hedge its bets.
- It was likely nothing was said about what was to be accomplished. You can’t measure activities objectively. But you can measure accomplishments.
- The person was most likely hired for a “job.” He or she was not hired to a role in the organization’s future. It is the future that really matters, not the past. Past performance does not predict well to future performance.
Competence is difficult to measure. So most organizations measure what’s easy to measure – the financials. But, to use a provocative metaphor:
Financial performance can only be measured in the wake of the ship. It is where the ship is headed that matters most. And then it is how it is powered and steered to get there.
It is full competence in every role in the organization that seals its fate. If you hire for full competence to carry forward in a well-specified role, you won’t have to fire for incompetence.
A key ingredient of competence is being in the “learning mode.” The best evidence for being in the “learning mode” is that the person performs his or her role better today than they did yesterday. You fire for lack of that. Maybe you should hire for the presence of that.
And, if it isn’t necessary for the person to perform his or her role better, poor performance may not be the person’s fault. It may be your fault for not making continuous improvement in every role necessary.
What is necessary will likely happen. What is not necessary may not happen.
Every organization, like every person, arrives at a status quo – ways of doing things that take precedence over doing them right. Percy Barnevik of ABB fame considered the status quo to be the enemy. His suggestion? Kill it.
There are people who have one year’s experience repeated 20 times. They become deadwood. How frequently do you clear the deadwood? Ranchers cull their herdsat least annually, in order to get better breeding.
Jack Welch eliminated the bottom 10% of performers annually. That takes the uncertainty and pain out of firing.
Outstanding performers are disruptive of the status quo. They are therefore more likely than mediocre performers to get the axe. If the culture of your organization is a safe haven for mediocrity, you are not doing a good job of firing.
And if you aren’t, you can’t do a good job of hiring.
One of the hidden reasons for firing people is that they don’t seem able to learn from experience. They never seem to get consistently better at what they do. Lesson? Make that explicit.
The best CEOs are not in their role to do the job. They are there to learn how to perform their role better today than they did yesterday. They expect the same of others.
If that’s not why you are there, you should be fired. You are, after all, the exemplar.
The best time to fire someone is the day before you hire them. If you can do that, you will be doing a far, far better job of hiring.
The bonus is that firing the wrong people for all the right reasons makes room for hiring more of the right people for the right reasons. But you have to know clearly what those are.
This is why knowing the real reasons for firing people will help you to make better and better judgments about hiring. In other words, the best way to get better at hiring is to get better at firing.
For what good reasons would you fire yourself? If you really figure that out, you will do a far better job of hiring – including casting yourself in the right role.
Lee Thayer has been a CEO coach and consultant for 45+ years and is known worldwide for his work “in the trenches” with executives to create high-performance organizations. Dr.Thayer has also held distinguished professorships in many of the major universities worldwide. His recent, acclaimed books include: Leadership: Thinking, Being, Doing; The Good Leader; Leaders and Leadership; Leadership Virtuosity; How Leaders Think; Explaining Things and The Competent Organization.
Welcome to the first in a series of powerful marketing concepts... you can call them riffs, sound bites, or guiding principles.
When folks come to us for marketing mentoring, marketing speaking, or our done-with-you marketing services, the first place we begin is to help them operationalize one or more of these marketing concepts.
If YOU try them, you'll be amazed with your results. (And when that happens, please stop by here again to leave a comment and share your success stories!!)
The first one is among the most powerful - and it's the marketing concept of overcoming inertia.
Marketing Concept: Get Started - Now!
As my motivational speaker friend Scott Ginsberg likes to say, "You don't need an idea - you need an I DID."
No matter how small the action - stop planning and start DOING. Only action creates results.
Scottish mountain climber W. H. Murray wrote:
"Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way."
Whatever your big idea happens to be - writing your book - launching your product - kicking off your new service - shipping your insanely great software - putting on your amazing conference - reinventing your career - birthing your awesome project - embarking on your new adventure...
Get Started - Now!!
You should have been here - in my office - 5 minutes ago.
This whiteboard was FULL - and I mean jam-packed - with ideas, notes, bullets, to-dos, action items, brainstorms, and some jottings about the "next big thing" for our professional speaking and inbound marketing firm.
Perhaps you have a similar whiteboard in your office. Or a wall filled with post-it notes. Or plaques and awards on your bookcase. Or other visual reminders of where your company has been and all that you have accomplished.
Tremendously exciting. Truly.
The only problem: it was tremendously exciting in your past. With every day, every week, every month - hell, every hour - that you do not ACT on those ideas, they start to turn on you.
They are no longer motivators - they are pacifiers that remind you how great you WERE. What you imagined would BE. And what - for better or worse - didn't quite turn out the way you envisioned last week, last month or last year.
In my case, my office whiteboard was holding onto ideas and initiatives from 6 months ago. Yikes! Totally useless to me today. EXCEPT it made me feel good about how gosh darn smart I am and what big plans I have/had (NOT!)
When Steve Jobs came back as interim CEO of Apple in 1997, he had every award, plaque, and completed project plan removed from the walls and hallways of Apple. He did not want any visual reminders of the past. All he wanted his teams to see was their future.
NEW plans, CURRENT prototypes, and UPCOMING projects were all over Apple's hallways, offices, and conference rooms. Everything was future-focused and kept rigorously up to date.
What do you need to erase from your whiteboard? Which awards should you put away? Which of your accolades are keeping you stuck in the past?
Put that stuff away.
Look to your CURRENT future. In the words of Steve Jobs - it will help you "Stay hungry. Stay foolish." And it will help you achieve your NEXT level of "insanely great."
A few years back, J.M. Smucker topped the list of the "100 Best Companies to Work For" compiled by the Great Place to Work Institute and published annually in Fortune magazine.
Their extremely simple code of conduct (and the foundation of their strong corporate culture) is as follows:
- Listen with your full attention
- Look for the good in others
- Have a sense of humor
- Say thank you for a job well done
See, it's simple! No big words.
And what is most interesting to me is that the "corporate code" above is not corporate at all -- it's PERSONAL. It addresses the way each individual person is expected to BEHAVE (not think - but ACT).
What's the corporate code where you work?
Is there a difference between the written code (on the wall in the lobby, perhaps?) and the way people really treat each other? Click in the COMMENTS section below and let's discuss...
David Newman is a marketing speaker and marketing coach who works with professionals who want to do a better job of marketing so they get more leads, better prospects, and bigger sales.
Consultant Bob Treadway reports the following as top priorities
of Fortune 500 organizations and leaders:
- Building a coaching culture that promotes candor and dialogue
- Linking strategy, structure, processes, values and human resources
- Balancing strategy and tactics
- Developing road maps for strategic planning and implementation at all levels
- Identifying and developing future high-potential leaders ("HiPos")
- Business literacy and management skills for new managers
- Performance-based coaching and feedback skills for managers and execs
- Persuasion, political savvy, managing without authority, managing upward
- Building "bench strength" in anticipation of the next labor shortage as the economy recovers
- Developing a bottom-line accountable culture
- Motivating workers in uncertain times
What's YOUR take on the list above? Please SHARE and DISCUSS in the comments section below...
As a motivational speaker in the area of marketing and business development, I'm often asked by CEOs and business owners about how they can be better leaders of their internal marketing efforts.
My answer is you can't be a great marketing leader unless you're first a great leader.
Here are some guidelines that the best leaders across all disciplines have come to recognize as foundational to their leadership success and that I share with you for the benefit of your own marketing success:
- Expect the best from people you lead.
- Become fully aware of others' needs.
- Establish high standards of excellence; communicate them
clearly and often.
- Create an environment where failure is not fatal.
- Climb on other people's bandwagons if they're going
anywhere near the neighborhood you want to go.
- Employ stories, examples, analogies, and models to
- Use a balanced mix of positive and negative feedback in
a constructive spirit and with specific substance.
- Appeal sparingly (or not at all) to competitive or
- Encourage and reward collaboration.
- Build into the group an allowance for healthy conflict
and "fights" around issues, not around personalities.
- Recognize and celebrate achievement.
- Take steps to keep your own level of motivation genuine