The average Sparefoot employee is 30 years old; a full five years my senior. So on the rare occasion when I have to let someone go, it can be difficult breaking the news to someone more experienced than myself. It is the one part of my job that I absolutely despise, but it is one of the most important things a CEO can do. This is how I tackle it:
If you are uncertain as to whether or not you, the CEO, should be the one to fire an employee, the definite answer is: yes, you should. I am a firm believer in transparency with my employees, and if I have a manager do the firing, how can I expect my team to trust me? I’m the one who hired them, so I should be the one to let them go. I understand this is not a plausible approach for every organization–many are simply too large. But for medium-sized outfits, I believe this is the best practice. Sure it’s awful, but you need to suck it up and be a good leader.
Like white on rice
You are walking in a room to throw a massive wrench in someone’s life, and they probably know it’s coming. One of the hardest lessons I have learned: stick to your guns. No matter how bad it feels, how unprepared you may be, or how emotional they may get, the decision has been made. When I get to this point, there is no turning back. It’s done. This doesn’t mean that you have to be stone-cold and unsympathetic, but it does mean no compromises. Offer instructions on leaving the company, best wishes, and nothing more.
Get by with a little help
How can you make an unpleasant situation even worse? By being uncoordinated and mucking up the details. Stock, healthcare, severance, what’s fair and what’s not–these all need to be taken care of beforehand. Advisors, HR people, lawyers, friends, and pretty much anyone who has been there before will tell you to have your ducks in a row. This makes the transition easier for everyone involved, and if you’re doing it right, on the (former) employee in question.
You have an obligation to keep your employees in the loop. Let them know who you’re letting go, but reassure them that their own jobs are not in jeopardy. It is important to find a balance between keeping your employees informed and not overstepping legal boundaries. It is not always appropriate to give out the five w’s when someone gets let go.
So, what’s it like?
Falling through thin ice. Like anything else you would be nervous about, it’s terrible. Being in a position to alter the course of someone’s life is a gut-wrenching experience, and it doesn’t get any easier with time. But keep in mind, it is probably worse for them, so stow the self-pity and nerves, and accept that sometimes being the boss blows.
Note: Anyone who finds him/ herself in this position should always seek the advice of an HR professional and sound legal counsel to develop a process and best practices around employee terminations.