We’ve all seen the infamous email by now:

Subject: Goodbye

To all,

I am very sad to tell you that I’ve just been fired over the phone by Yahoo’s Chairman of the Board. It has been my pleasure to work with all of you and I wish you only the best going forward.

Carol

I realize that the truth of the matter is that Bartz was on a plane going east while Roy Bostock was traveling to the west coast, so it wasn’t possible for them to meet in person. We can’t possibly know if this phone firing was based on the need to do it and do it now, or if it was a real dis. Whatever the truth is, Bartz couldn’t help herself with a little dig in her parting words. I enjoyed this Washington Post article - Yahoo CEO Bartz gets fired by phone, gets real by email.

CEOs don’t get fired. They “resign” or retire at the suggestion of the board, but to publicly (very publicly) announce you’ve been ousted is pretty rare. In fact, in 2010 according to Spencer Stuart, only 2 fortune 500 executives were publicly removed from their jobs. That’s what makes this zinger by Bartz so mediagenic!

So, with this unceremonious and high profile phone firing I’ve been asked by some media to comment on the right way to fire someone. I thought I’d pass this along to you.

1.) Follow the Golden Rule. Treat others as you would like to be treated.   Don’t send an email or a text to fire someone - much as you might like to. Unlike the (some might say overdue seeing the reaction of the stock market) firing of Ms. Bartz, I do recommend firing people live in person when possible. It’s all about respect. If you have an in-person relationship, an in-person meeting is respectful.

2.) Let them know why without judgment or criticism. Normally the reason is that they are no longer a fit with what the company needs. Sometimes it’s a public failure like Bartz. No matter how obvious the reason seems, say it out loud without judgment. “We have to lay off 10% of our workforce” or “When our IT systems stopped working for two days under your watch, that was not acceptable for us as an organization.” Again, it’s all about respect.

3.) Tell them the next steps. People are usually surprised or emotional when they are let go, so it’s important to give them real concrete next steps. For example “I’ll need you to pack up your desk. We’ve disconnected your email and someone will escort you out because that’s our policy. ” It’s not callous to tell someone the reality of their situation, and if they have to vacate, let them know rather than surprising them with a security guard.

4.) Don’t feel like you have to apologize. I have worked with executives who feel they have to apologize or make people feel better when they are laid off or let go. The truth is, you can’t be the bad guy and the good guy at the same time. You can always say you’re sorry this happened if you feel that way, but in this challenging part of leadership you need to have clear boundaries, be kind, and know that you can’t make this one better.

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