I just received a call from a reporter filing a story on the recent ousting of Yahoo’s CEO, Carol Bartz, who was fired by phone by Yahoo’s Chairman of the Board and got even through e-mail. The reporter asked me whether I thought it was ever ok to fire an employee over the phone. Here was my reply.
Firing people by phone is a cowardly thing to do. If you don’t have the guts to tell the person he or she is no longer employed by the company, then perhaps you shouldn’t be in the job you are in. Listen people. Firing isn’t about you and your feelings. It’s about the person who is about to lose their livelihood. Got it? This holds true at the top of the organization as well as the bottom.
In my book, Suddenly in Charge, I share timeless tips for tactful terminations. Here are several of these tips:
- Avoid surprises-From the sounds of Ms. Bartz’s response to the termination (an e-mail sent to 13,000 employees telling them she was just fired over the phone), one can only imagine she was caught off guard by the news. An employee termination should not come as a surprise to the employee. If you believe this will be the case, retrace your steps. A more direct conversation may be your next step, before you move to terminate the person.
- Be prepared-This is not the time to wing it folks. If need be, write yourself a script and practice what you will say or you may wind up explaining to your company attorney why you told this employee he was one of your stronger players, while simultaneously firing him.
- Focus on performance-Focus your discussion on performance-related issues. For example, rather than telling an employee that you are firing her because she has a poor attitude, cite specific examples of how her actions have negatively impacted her ability to achieve agreed upon goals.
When probed further by the reporter, I told him there were three instances that I could think of for terminating someone by phone.
- You feel threatened-The person you are about to terminate has demonstrated that he is not operating on all cylinders. You sense he could become violent. No need to expose yourself or your staff to a life threatening situation.
- The employee is a no-show, no-call-You can’t fire someone in person if they aren’t showing up for work. That’s when you have to go to Plan B. A phone call, followed by a certified letter.
- The employee is in jail-This certainly makes it impossible to deliver the news in person. Go with Plan B, as listed above.
Terminating people will get easier with practice. But the truth is, the day it becomes too easy is the day you look for a new career.
What is your opinion on the situation at Yahoo and firing people over the phone?