No one likes firing people, not even Donald Trump. Even the rare few who aren’t concerned about the impact on their people are concerned about the business impact. It is taxing and expensive emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. It is complicated by HR laws that can prevent us from being as honest as we would like. And yet, as leaders it is part of the job. If done well, both you and your employee can actually be left feeling relieved and freed up to move forward productively. Back in the 1990s, there was a little book called The Corporate Mystic – A Guidebook for Visionaries with Their Feet on the Ground by Gay Hendricks and Kate Ludeman. They coined the phrase High Firing. I have modified and used it many times over the years because it restores integrity and frees up both employer and employee to get on with making their best professional contributions.
High Firing is a compassionate, kind-hearted stand for both people in the relationship having their personal integrity restored. It is a commitment for each person being able to make their best contribution wherever they work. Sometimes, that will not end up being for you or in the same organization.
It takes courage and patience to high fire. You must look at yourself first. The rules are simple.
- Tell the truth
- Keep your mind and heart open
- Stand for the future success – for them, for you, for the organization.
This practice is only difficult when we get wrapped up in who is right or wrong about what is not working, or consumed with emotional responses we are anticipating. This triggers defensiveness and delays honesty. And, then our hearts and minds are no longer open. Telling the truth means, you speak to anything you did to impede their success. This can be everything from delayed or sugar-coated feedback or lack of training and development, to realizing earlier on it was a bad hire and/or you waited too long to let them go. In the end, this person is failing, which unaddressed is ultimately disempowering to that employee. If you are not standing for their success and seeing it happen, how can they possibly succeed under your leadership? It becomes an integrity issue because you are not being honest and/or are avoiding one of your accountabilities – to empower those who work with you to succeed. If this is making sense and you want to consider this approach, here are some ways to start your process:
Reflection Questions for You:
- Get present to the who this person is when they are at their best. What is the gift they contribute?
- Be very clear about what success looks like for you, the company, and this person in their current role.
- Identify any negative judgments or opinions you currently have about this person.
- Do what it takes to set your judgments and opinions aside – separate them out from the person. Your unmet expectations do not mean this person is a failure.
- If you were standing for the success of this person in their career, what would you be saying or doing to support this success?
- As their supervisor, have you been open and candid along the way about what is working or not working about their performance and your professional relationship?
- If not, what is there to say to this person to put honesty and integrity in place?
- When you are clear-minded and open-hearted about what you and this person both need to be successful, you are ready to have the conversation with them.
- Take time to design the conversation in your mind: the context for standing for their success, the desire to be open and candid, the intended outcome for the conversation.
Some Suggestions for the High Firing Process:
- Own your own part first: Something like “my experience is that our relationship is lacking the truth and integrity that is critical for the success of both of us inside this organization. I would like to do what it takes to put it back in place. Would you be willing to base our relationship in truth and integrity moving forward?”.
- If they get defensive or negative, likely either they are not in the place to do so right now or you are not being as clean as you think about standing for their success. You may need to acknowledge that before you move on.
- Offer the specific actual data about why you are saying what you are about their performance. Be very intentional about separating out the data from your emotion response or opinions about what has happened.
- Make your definition for success for you and the company very clear.
- If it has reached a point where they cannot succeed and bring their best offering to the company, be explicit in saying so. To not say so, is ultimately disempowering to your employee.
- If appropriate, have a conversation about where they might succeed and make their best contribution.
- If you are not at the end just yet, what you are “firing” is the old way of operating together.
- Design the new relationship, focusing on restoring honesty and integrity by being very specific about what that will look like moving forward.
Some of this process may not be possible inside of your organizational policies. However, every leader can take steps to tell the truth, restore integrity, and stand for the success of another. Sometimes getting fired is the very thing that makes this possible.