A friend of mine had tough duty to pull last week. She had to fire somebody.
She followed all of the rules and jumped through all of the hoops. She cleared it with HR. She got the green light from legal. She had discussed the situation with the employee back in the Fall. Things didn't change. So the course was clear.
I know this woman really well. She is one of my closest friends and one of my few confidants. She is a pillar of rectitude. She is honest to a fault. She is compassionate and kind. She is also nine kinds of tough and she is not a ditherer. When the choice was made plain and stark to her she made haste to get her legal ducks lined up before she did what she had to do.
Because she is such a compassionate woman, she was literally physically ill the morning before she confronted the employee with the bad news. After all, the employee is not a bad person. Quite the contrary. She is a very good person. And she had been in her position a long time. But the needs of the organization had changed. And, unfortunately, the employee's skill set had not. It just wasn't working out anymore as they say at times like these.
I had to fire somebody once. I was the President of the Board of a non-profit here in town. Our CEO had resigned under a hail of bullets after an investigation of a complaint by the HR people revealed that she was either something of a bigot or a total idiot. As happens from time to time, a collateral finding of the investigation revealed that another employee was routinely subordinate and disruptive. Not only that, she was despised and feared by her fellow employees. So I went in with the acting CEO to send her packing as well.
This was 7 years or so ago and the economy was in the tank. Although this employee had it coming in spades, still, she was a fellow human being. A single Mom. And I was taking bread out of her mouth.
I called one of my agency heads back in the government for advice.
"Paul," he said. "There's no easy way to do it. You just go in there and hand her the notice that she is terminated along with her rights under COBRA. Give her her dignity but don't engage in a discussion with her about the decision. Give her time to clean out her office. And then take her out of the building in such a way that few employees will see her leave if you can do it. That's about all you can do."
And that's what we did. But still, it was hard. I can't imagine having to terminate a nice person. Even if there are grounds. But then again, my agency head friend told me that the minute firing somebody gets easy is the minute you need to get out of management.
My friend did what she had to do, basically following the same script that I was given years before. Then she went home and went to bed.
She reported to the HR person after the dust had settled. She was told to wear blue the next day.
"Always wear blue the day after you have to let somebody go," she was told. "Blue inspires trust. I know you wear a lot of black. But don't go back to that office wearing anything but blue." I guess that is why the President of the United States is sometimes referred to as "the man in the blue suit."
My good friend went back to the office the next day. She wore a sweater despite the fact that it was a warm Spring day.
It was blue.