The Wrong Way For A CIO To Fire A Worker

by drjim on February 15, 2012

When CIOs fire IT workers, they need to do it the right way…

When CIOs fire IT workers, they need to do it the right way…

It’s time for that IT worker to go. As CIO, one of the most painful decisions that you are ever going to have to make is the decision to terminate an employee. Not only is this a tough call for you to make, if you have any sensitivity at all then you realize that it’s going to rough on them no matter how you go about doing this. Considering how important this is the IT department and to both of you, perhaps we should spend a few moments talking about the right way to go about doing this part of your job…

Lessons From Yahoo – How Not To Fire An IT Worker

Just in case you were out of town and missed it, over at Yahoo they fired their then-CEO Carol Bartz the wrong way. As a CIO you need to be aware of what they did and why it was wrong. First off, Carol was fired over the phone. Secondly, as reported by her, Yahoo Chairman Roy Bostock who was doing the firing over the phone was also apparently reading the termination to her from a script that he had prepared. Can you say impersonal?

The lesson that you need to take away from this botched job of firing a worker is that it will come back to haunt you. How to fire a worker is not a part of the definition of information technology and perhaps that’s why nobody seems to know how to do it well. Yahoo is probably going to have problems convincing people to come work for them because of this story. I mean would you want to work for a company that is that cold and impersonal when it comes to letting their workers go?

If you’ve got to fire somebody, then at least do it the right way. This means that if it is at all possible, you need to do it face-to-face. No, this doesn’t make it easier for you, but trust me this will make the whole experience better for both of you.

The Correct Way To Fire An IT Worker

So if Yahoo has shown CIOs how NOT to fire workers, what is the correct way to perform this painful task? That’s actually a very good question that has multiple parts to its answer.

First off, we need to understand that some of the commonly held beliefs about the best way to let someone go (given to us by countless company legal departments) are wrong. Sure, these long-held myths seem to be the best way to do things, but it turns out that they actually boost the chances that the terminated worker is going to turn around and sue the company.

Let’s start with trying to understand what a worker who is being let go wants to hear from you. Even though you are firing them, studies have shown that the process can go much smoother if during the process you take the time to praise them. Clearly you need to be careful here – complement their good qualities, but make sure that it is very clear that they are still being let go.

Next, if at all possible don’t have them escorted from the building by a security guard. This takes away all of the good feelings (if there are any) that the praise that you shared with them during the firing discussion may have caused. Instead of a guard, you should be the one who walks them out of the building.

The other thing that you should not do is to have another person present in the room when you are doing the firing. Yes, I know that this is a basic recommendation from both your HR and legal departments. However, studies have shown that by having this 3rd party present is viewed by the person who is being fired as demonstrating a lack of respect for them. I for one can agree with this – it makes the person being fired feel as though the two of you are ganging up on them.

Finally, during the actual process of firing someone be sure to do it slowly. Remember, if you have been a good manager they should have been given plenty of warning and coaching before reaching this point. If you take your time and allow them to process what is happening, they will have more time to deal with this change.

One way to slow things down is to make sure that you carefully explain why they are being let go. Studies have shown that terminated employees were 10x more likely to sue their former employer if they felt that the reason for their dismissal had not been explained to them.

What All Of This Means For You

Firing workers sucks. It’s no fun for you and it’s no fun for them. However, as CIO this is actually a key and important part of your job – you need to ensure that you have the right team on board and you will have to make changes to that team by firing people every so often. The importance of information technology to your firm means that you need to be able to do this part of your job well.

You need to understand how not to fire staff. Don’t do it over the phone (like they did at Yahoo) and don’t read from a script. Do this badly once and overnight it will be the talk of the IT sector. Take the time to meet with the employee face-to-face and provide a complete explanation of why they are being let go. Try to do the actual firing with just you and the person who is being let go – ultimately this will help them deal with receiving this information.

No CIO gets up in the morning with the anticipation of having to fire a worker that day (at least I hope not). However, it does happen and you need to learn how to do a good job at this part of your position. Take the time to provide some humanity and understanding as a part of the termination process and you will make a difficult task that much easier for both you and the employee.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: Would you feel comfortable firing someone if nobody else was around while you did it?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

A part of a CIO’s job is to let those people who report to him or her know how they are doing. At most companies, this is done once a year during an annual employee review. I’m not sure about you, but have you ever asked yourself if this is the best way to do this kind of thing? In the age of Facebook and Twitter, maybe it’s time to do these kind of reviews more often…

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