This morning, I was reading Common Purpose: How Great Leaders Get Organizations to Achieve the Extraordinary. The author, Joel Kurtzman, quoted Ramit Varma, cofounder of Revolution Prep, a dymanic, successful education company, saying that, when dissent is the manifestation of a perpetually negative mind . . . “You must be brutal and quick. When someone doesn’t work out, you have to get rid of them. And you have to do it fast. If they don’t uphold your values and vision, if they don’t come around to your goals, they can do real damage.”
I am not comfortable with this.
And also, I see it is true, and essential.
It makes sense to accept the truth of it, and also to accept that it must always remain an uncomfortable truth.
On one hand, far too many companies and organizations and people in leadership positions in this country have become comfortable being brutal. This leads to fear in the workplace, which destroys the quality of our lives and quality of work and results. “Eliminate Fear in the Workplace” was #8 of Deming’s 14 points of Total Quality Management, and, in my view, the most important.
And on the other hand, far too many organizations and people in leadership positions have ducked their heads and avoided necessary clarification and action. especially when that action means ending a business relationship. Most companies and organization live with perpetual discomfort, stress, and confusion. This perpetuates hassle and waste, another source of reduced quality of life, products, and services.
Act Decisively to Create and Maintain Synergy
It is simply true that success requires synergy. And synergy requires both parties acting with mutual respect and with common goals.
It is a leader’s responsibility to see with clarity.
It is a leader’s responsibility to stop damage to an organization, just as it is a surgeon’s responsibility to stop bleeding.
In a well-run organization, emergency surgery is rare. But, in any organization or organism, when emergency surgery is necessary, it should be done immediately, and done well. That’s basic and definitional. Emergency means immediate action is required. And surgery must always be done well; sloppy surgery leads to disease and death.
Symbolically, such actions are represented by the Sword. In society, it is Athena’s Sword of Justice. The Sword is the symbol of mind, clarity, and decisiveness. The Sword – or scalpel – cuts quickly and precisely.
Why must we act with swift precision at these times? To save lives and prevent illness and suffering.
That’s obvious in the medical emergency room. It is equally true in the business emergency. If a business is bleeding red ink or losing employees or morale or productivity because there is a conflict at the executive level, it must be resolved swiftly. If attempts to resolve it with the person do not work out quickly, then it may be best to let that person go. And, if so, the surgery is best done quickly and cleanly. And the same truth scales down all the way to the small shop and the individual worker.
And that is usually the best for everyone involved.
When win-win is not possible, no deal is the best option. Moving to it directly helps everyone.
Firing Should Happen Rarely
But let’s be clear. Firing should happen rarely. Why? For two reasons:
- Respectful dissent is essential to organizational success. We need eveyrone in the company coming up with better and better ideas all the time. We need people to promote their ideas, and challenge ours. Leaders destroy an organization by cultivatign fear and creating yes-men under them. If we fire people too quickly, we quash dissent.
- Good hiring prevents firing. If we make the decision to hire well at the beginning, then we rarely need to fire anyone. So, every time we let someone go – and when someone leaves as a result of a conflict in the business, it is important to perform a root cause analysis and learn how to prevent such events. In most cases, that will mean changing hiring practices or changing ourselves and our own fundamental attitudes. By and large, leaders create the conflicts and problems within their organizations.
Firing Should Be Done Well
If firing, done well, helps everyone, that means that, when a leader fires someone and does it well, the person he fires is better off. Or, at least, every effort is done to create the possibility that the person being fired is better off.
Firing might be compared to the complicated surgery of separating Siamese twins. The goal is two healthy children. But, sometimes, even doing our best, only one child can survive.
As leaders of organizations, our first responsibility is the health and success of the organization or company we lead.
But, higher than that, as human beings, our first responsibility is “First, do no harm.” So we also act with concern for the person who is leaving the organization.
I have been fired, and it was healthy for me. I couldn’t grow in that organization. So it made sense that the leader of the organization insist that I be transplanted somewhere else.
In a garden, transplanting creates shock. But if the plant being moved survives the transition and moves to a better place – more sun, bigger pot, or the freedom of the yard with deep earth, then that plant is better off.
So, when firing, do not cast away weeds. People are not weeds. Transplant what does not work. Nourish the person who is leaving, and, when possible, encourage them to find a place that they can grow.