Leaders: The 24-Hour Rule To Firing People

Juan Williams Fired

Why?  Why, Why, why, why, why?

WHY can’t people get firing someone RIGHT THE FIRST TIME? In the past year, so many high-profile examples have been put before us as “how to not fire people.” It’s embarrassing to witness.

Is “foot-in-mouth” disease running rampant with those who fire people?


Think of these examples: Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien, Sherry Sherrod, Juan Williams.  All contained some apologetic footnote, all were handled poorly, all cost a lot in the ways of money, reputation, trust, respect, etc.

OK, some of you might think that Jay and Conan weren’t fired per se, but to me that was a two-fer.  That whole situation so exemplified the way NOT to fire people, and the costs associated to poor leadership and poor talent management, that I’m still chuckling deep down inside when I think of it.

How pathetic—and NBC is in the talent management business?

The Spin Zone

Leno O'BrianEven now as I type this, I’m trying to stay focused, wiping away tears of “still can’t believe it” from my eyes.  There are only so many spins you can put on pushing out a successful talent, bringing in another talent because you promised, then pushing the new talent out because he didn’t work out well, and then groveling to get the old talent back.

I can’t imagine how much money was lost in the 10 or 11 months that took place in between the “do it anyway” strategy of Jeff Zucker (and yet, in the nice little bubble of the entertainment world, NBC still managed to try the spin cycle… and eventually many feetsies went into many mouthsies).

So whether people think Jay Leno was fired from the Tonight Show, then replaced by Conan who was in turn fired to be replaced by Jay who probably should’ve stayed put all along (cue Bugs Bunny sound effect)… there WAS a foot in someone’s mouth when all was said and done, and the rest of us took our daily dose of media aspirin and these days it’s like nothing happened.

Meanwhile, had the situation been handled better by leadership, it might have cost less… well, less everything.

SSDD – Same Stuff, Different Day

Same with Sherry Sherrod’s firing.

Ready, fire, aim… apologize after finding out you fired her for wrongful information, then offer her a new job because you messed up.  Breathtakingly audacious, and it was the first and last time I heard anything about the Department of Agriculture.  Guess what I think about if someone mentions the DOA?

Same with Juan Williams’s firing.

Ready, fire, aim… apologize after cooling off and realizing how poorly you handled it, then continue to backpeddle for the inappropriate things said.  Breathtakingly careless, and I’m an NPR listener.  Guess what I’m thinking about the most when I listen in on the ride to work these days?

Firing Range

Now this blog isn’t about whether someone deserved to be fired or not.  There are already thousands of blogs on that subject, and the Juan Williams situation is just starting to cook.  This blog is asking one simple question: if someone is supposedly “good enough” (see my last blog) to earn a post in the higher echelons of leadership, why oh why can’t those very same people learn how to fire someone in a way that doesn’t COST so much?

All of us here at the L2L Blogazine strive to blog about relevant topics on leadership.  Nearly every blog brings up a matter of truth: when you are in a leadership position, people are always watching you.  People expect you to be better than them.

Those are the rules, sorry.  I didn’t make them up, they’ve been in play since the dawn of time.

Meanwhile, the basic expectation is that you earn something for your organization (such as money, reputation, trust, respect, etc) and try not to lose too much in the meantime (such as… you guessed it: money, reputation, trust, respect, etc).

Poorly firing someone costs WAY more than people care to admit, or apparently care to learn from (a-hem, NBC), so why hasn’t learning how to terminate someone appropriately become a mainstay for leadership development?

Social Awareness

In the “Age of Transparency” with people able to tweet, blog, linkin, fb, glassdoor, and jobvent their way through their social lives and what I call “social therapy” (using any of these social tools to rid yourself of unwanted psychological stress), why wouldn’t a leader take special precautions when firing someone, especially if the very termination is based on a social drop from a news station?

If main media is the conduit for prompting a termination, the matter is already outside of your barn doors—wouldn’t you want to use precaution?

Now I recognize that as leaders we cannot exercise excellence all the time—it’s not humanly possible– but c’mon!!  There are so many things that we can get RIGHT as leaders if we just put a little forethought into it, and terminations is one of the top items.  All you need to do is THINK! How hard can that be?  (um… ok, I know I know, you’re right… strike from the record).

Forget the entitlements we hear about, the misuse of resources, the unethical treatment or use of monies… I have a new beef with leadership: ANY kind of termination that forces a leader to put his or her foot in said mouth is a botch-up that will cost something, and usually something BIG.

The 24-Hour Rule

So Leaders—do me a favor: practice the “24 hour” rule before firing anyone:

  • Call a lawyer
  • Call your mother
  • Talk to your confidants
  • Go fishing
  • Play solitaire
  • Read a book

Do whatever it takes to clear your mind and consider the COST of you screwing up a termination BEFORE you step into it.

Your job isn’t just to earn things, but save things also.

“Costs” are more than the liabilities of your P&L statement, and as soon as you are the liability, you become the cost.

When it comes to terminations, a little forethought and energy around how you will do it, why you are doing it, and what you WILL and WON’T say is one of the easiest ways to keep everyone focused on the right things: what you can do to earn something for your organization.

What do you think a poorly handled termination really costs an organization?  How can leaders learn to terminate as though it were a critical function of their role (as it should be?)

Christa (Centola) Dhimo, President & Founder,
via Best Practices
She helps clients by aligning human capital performance with business results


Image Sources: gulfnews.com, newyorker.com


One response to “Leaders: The 24-Hour Rule To Firing People

  1. Nice article. But really, at least a few people do think!


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