We made it to double digits and it's a special Tyson & Alexa episode all about... firing. We'll discuss terminations, RIFs, exits, layoffs, and all the jargon as well as best practices, real stories and hard truths. Tyson tells the story of her best firing, when 'mums the word' and a few rules to fire by... This one's a little spicy kids!
Release Date: August 24, 2021
[00:00:00] Presenter: Warning, this podcast is about the realities of working in people operations. This is not a stuck-up PC compliance-based or employment law podcast about stuffy outdated HR practices. Shit will get real here, and we assume no responsibility.
[00:00:16] Female Speaker: We had a strict no-alcohol policy, and everybody was like, "Oh, don't drink, HR is here." Meanwhile, I'm like mid crack a beer.
[00:00:24] Female Speaker: If they're that disengaged before, they're going to be that disengaged in the office, just would be sitting at their desks looking at Facebook.
[00:00:29] Female Speaker: They are going to find ways [unintelligible 00:00:30].
[00:00:31] Presenter: This is the People Problems Podcast with Alexa Boggio and Tyson Mackenzie.
[00:00:39] Alexa Boggio: What's up, Tyson?
[00:00:40] Tyson Mackenzie: Hey, Alexa. Not too much. What's up with you? [laughs]
[00:00:42] Alexa Boggio: How's my second favorite Leo doing?
[00:00:45] Tyson Mackenzie: [laughs] Because you're your [crosstalk] first favorite Leo?
[00:00:48] Alexa: Exactly. Exactly. That's right in line. Right?
[00:00:51] Tyson: Doing really good.
[00:00:52] Alexa: What's new in the hood? How's Ottawa treating you?
[00:00:55] Tyson: I'll say Ottawa has been great. Things are opening back up in the world, which is nice. I have been enjoying Fridays off this summer, our company gives us Fridays off, but I always go into it with so much that I want to do, and end up sleeping for half a day on the couch with my cat. We just let the Real Housewives play, and that's it.
[00:01:13] Alexa: Just bask in it. Everyone always says I always get so excited for the weekend. I think we happen to be recording this on a Friday as we're talking about this, but I get so excited for the weekend, and then Friday night is the night that I finish working at whatever time that is. Sometimes it's early, sometimes it's late, and I just want to go to sleep
[00:01:30] Tyson: Honestly.
[00:01:31] Alexa: I'm like, "I just want to sit on the couch with takeout and go to bed." All my delusions of like, "Let's go party, let's go see people," is like, "Yes, but save that shit for tomorrow. I can't right now."
[00:01:41] Tyson: I know. Definitely not. I'm with you on that.
[00:01:43] Alexa: Yes. All right. Well, we have a very fun topic. It's just us today, Alexa and Tyson episode. You're welcome. We are going to be talking about firing because that is a topic that continues to come up in all of our episodes, with all of our listeners, et cetera. People want to hear a little bit about what we have to say on the topic of firing, or as we, I think, gracefully put it in a prior episode of termination, which we're not going to talk about that, because we're going to [crosstalk].
[00:02:10] Tyson: There's all sorts of words; exits, layoffs.
[00:02:13] Alexa: Yes. What are all the words?
[00:02:15] Tyson: Workforce reduction.
[00:02:16] Alexa: We can add this to our-- Oh, yes, reduction in force, RIF. Oh God. Brutal.
[00:02:22] Tyson: There's tons.
[00:02:23] Alexa: There's tons. All right. Let's talk about, sort of like high level to start, Tyson, your general thoughts on maybe-- Let's start with, like, what this usually is. Right? Like, what's the general structure for firing, not how it should be but what do we think is the general structure and why?
[00:02:41] Tyson: Yes. Obviously, we're just going to use firing as a blanket term, but there's going to be a lot of different reasons as to why someone could be facing being fired. Commonly, performance, of course. If someone is being fired for performance, that conversation is going to look very, very different than if someone is getting laid off because there's a lack of work or there is some reduction of some sorts, reorg.
[00:03:04] Alexa: Reorg or something.
[00:03:05] Tyson: Exactly. There's that and then, in Canada, we have something called for cause, which is basically-- You've done something so bad, and it has to be pretty bad, that we are letting you go and we're not providing you with any sort of payment at all.
[00:03:22] Alexa: You're basically not-- Yes, something fraudulent, something-- harassment. [crosstalk] Yes. Something really bad just means we're not contractually obligated to do anything but get rid of you.
[00:03:32] Tyson: Yes, exactly. Anyway, all that to say it really is going to make the conversation very different, and how you approach the conversation is going to be really different. Sometimes like--
[00:03:42] Alexa: I think the two that are the most obvious for this conversation are performance and like a reorg or a role elimination effectively for cause. I mean, we can go through for cause because those probably suck the most to do in a way, but let's go through them.
[00:03:58] Tyson: But I will say like for cause, I've personally never done a for-cause termination, and I think even from my mentors, I only know of maybe one that's ever happened. It's really hard to do. If we're thinking--
[00:04:10] Alexa: Yes, I've been involved in committee meetings about them, I have never actually [crosstalk] one, luckily.
[00:04:14] Tyson: Yes. Those are probably the easiest ones to do, to be honest, because it's like you're shithead, we're firing you. Like, you did something so bad. Like, you're out of here, and we're not paying you anything for it.
[00:04:21] Alexa: Yes. "We caught you, leave the fucking building."
[00:04:23] Tyson: Yes, exactly.
[00:04:25] Alexa: Those I think are most important from a process perspective, because those are the ones where you have to be like, "We said it, we documented it, we have proof, we've also decided before we do this how to handle you getting out of the building." Like, you have to get computers. There is actually a bit of logistical nightmare, more so than if you're firing someone for performance or you're giving someone, like, walking them through notice like, "Hey, we're going to let you go, but you have two weeks or four weeks or whatever" if that ever happens, but for causes, like, "We're going to escort you out now, and I need all your shit."
[00:04:58] Tyson: Yes. Honestly, it's so hard to come up with that documentation. I feel like most companies, even if it is a potential for-cause termination, they'll just pay it out anyways. I've seen that. I've been part of those before.
[00:05:11] Alexa: I've seen that for sure. Just as like, "Go quietly, please," but yes, you have to at least-- the bigger thing I think is you've got to get all their shit. Like, you've got to shut down their email immediately. It's a lot of ops shit.
[00:05:23] Tyson: That happens a lot. There's always going to be logistics involved. Right? Even if it's a layoff because of lack of work or restructuring or if it's because of performance, you're always going to be managing, canceling the person's email, their computer access, getting them out of the building if you're still in brick and mortar building.
There's always going to be those types of logistics, and a lot of planning has to go into any of these meetings as well as comms plans and stuff like that. Very generally, if you're firing someone for performance reasons, hopefully, and in most places, it might be different in the States, but in Canada, we're going to want to make sure that there's a pretty clear performance path that we've taken, whether we've documented performance concerns, showed that we've tried to have performance improvement, and my--
[00:06:11] Alexa: A PIP.
[00:06:11] Tyson: Exactly.
[00:06:13] Alexa: Oh God. So many fucking acronyms.
[00:06:14] Tyson: I would just say, anytime someone is getting fired because of performance reasons, it should not be a surprise. You as the people ops person who's working through a situation like that, you need to make sure that when you're chatting with managers, they are really truly giving strong feedback. I've been in so many meetings, in termination meetings, where the person is surprised. I'm like, "But hold on, I've been counseling the lead or the supervisor on performance management for the last month.
Like, how is this still a surprise?"
Look, people are always going to be surprised, but it's really important that people aren't surprised in those meetings. I'm pretty rough and tough when it comes to a lot of these conversations, and I think we're pretty outspoken on a lot of stuff that HR does, but I do not take these meetings lightly at all. I treat them with a lot of care and compassion. [chuckles] This is probably the thing that I treat with the most care and compassion in my job because getting fired no matter how shitty of a performer you are, that's a shitty, shitty, shitty situation to be in.
[00:07:11] Alexa: Yes, somebody's fucking livelihood. If you don't take that seriously, then fuck you.
[00:07:17] Tyson: It is a hard thing to do, and we'll talk about that, but if it's performance-related, make sure that it's not a surprise. I've been in termination meetings where the person has actually thanked me. They've acknowledged the fact that this was the right decision. That's what you want out of those discussions. Restructuring and layoffs because of lack of work or whatever, that's a lot harder of a conversation, because look, when you're doing those, obviously, you're going to take the time to make sure the crappier people are going to be the ones that get reorged out.
You're not going to reorg out your best performers. Yes, it's a bit of a cleanup shop sometimes, but it's still hard, right? Because it's really by no fault of the person, it's because the company is not doing well, something has changed, whatever. Those ones can be a little tricky because you're kind of sitting there, just saying, "Unfortunately, we just don't have the work for you anymore."
[00:08:08] Alexa: Right. Any advice on those?
[00:08:10] Tyson: You're not really supposed to do this, but people will always ask, "Am I the only one being affected?" Especially if it's lack of work, and you say you're being let go due to lack of work. People are going to say, "Is it just me?"
We obviously can't share confidential information, but what we can say is something along the lines of, we had to take a look at our business overall and make some really difficult decisions, and just share a little bit about the process and how that happens, so like, "You aren't the only person being impacted today, but of course, we can't share any confidential information about anybody else." Just giving a little bit of information. Typically, in these types of meetings, you give minimal information, very, very, very minimal.
[00:09:00] Alexa: But you can say things like, "No, you're not the one affected. Other departments were affected."
[00:09:03] Tyson: Yes, exactly. Depending on if it's a team, or if it's a bigger group, you can allude to some of that. It's like, "Hey, unfortunately, because we didn't win project X, we don't have the work for this type of skill set anymore," something like that. You can kind of share a little bit. In Ontario where I work, you can fire people for pretty much any reason as long as it's not illegal. If there have been times where we haven't done a really good job of performance managing, but there's a reason why we need to just go ahead and get rid of the person, maybe they're being really problematic, they're being a negative influence on the team, they're starting to get unruly.
It's like, "You know what? We're not going to performance manage this person because we know it's not going to work." In meetings like that, those are probably the most tight[unintelligible 00:09:52] meetings that you'll have. It's literally just, "We made a difficult decision to end your employment effective immediately." Those are the hardest ones because then they're going to be like, "What? Why?" You're like, "We had to make a difficult business decision" and you just kind of repeat that.
[00:10:07] Alexa: Yes. Hold the line.
[00:10:08] Tyson: Yes. You can't say anything else.
[00:10:11] Alexa: Yes. I'm not going to go down a rabbit hole here, but I do hope that people who are listening to this recognize that that is actually one of the more incredible pieces of legislation that the United States and Canada holds, which is employment at-will and the ability for employers to use discretion to let people go. There are definitely other economies, and we do have international listeners. I have friends in New Zealand and friends in other places, but it is very, very hard to fire people. I think we talked about this with a prior guest, it's not always as easy as just like, what was the like big Silicon Valley? Hire slow and fire fast. That was a big thing for a while.
It's like try to pick the best people, and if they're really toxic in any way, shape, or form, get rid of them. It's like, that is totally true because I have seen how just a single hire can screw up an entire team dynamic for the worse very quickly. It's like letting the plague into the stall, but that's not the case everywhere. Be grateful as someone who's involved in a growing business that you have that discretion and use it wisely.
[00:11:14] Tyson: Even provincially in Canada, I know it's a lot more difficult to let people go in Quebec after they've been there for two years. You have this strange grace period and then the--
[00:11:25] Alexa: We have our [crosstalk]
[00:11:26] Tyson: Exactly, of course. Then, another thing to consider is, obviously, there's the provincial things that you'd have to take into consideration, like different provincial rules, but obviously, if you're working in a union space, it's going to be completely different. First of all, it's pretty much impossible to fire people who work in unions. There's obviously going to be a lot of different rules. You wouldn't be following the provincial rules. You'd be following the rules of the union.
[00:11:49] Alexa: All right. Let's talk a little bit about, before we get into some of the effects of this and maybe better ways to do things versus what we're doing now, I would love to hear, Tyson, because I know this has come up before. I would love to hear a little bit about why HR is involved in this and if you think that's a good thing or not?
[00:12:05] Tyson: I actually personally do think it's a good thing because when I am sitting in a meeting like this, maybe we have someone listening right now, they've never been a part of a termination meeting. It is not HR that's saying the tough news. It's not HR that's delivering that message. You're typically sitting there with the person's supervisor, hopefully, it's the closest supervisor possible, someone that they have a personal relationship, because that's always the nicer thing to do. The leader is actually the one that says, "I have some really difficult news to share with you, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
Then, in most cases, the leader will remove themselves from that meeting. Now, the individual is left with someone who is a relatively neutral party, hopefully a familiar face, someone that they know and someone that can really support them through the next steps and what the package looks like. You'd sort of take them through any payments that's being provided, extension of benefits, anything like that, and then help them in terms of answering any questions that they have that are more logistics. Now, we can't answer why am I getting fired.
That's always best to be discussed when the manager is still in the room, but what we can do is we can be neutral to the fact that if that person is thinking-- I've been in meetings where people have been using health benefits for something, and they're concerned about not having their benefits because that's going to be a huge cost to them because they have a prescription or something like that.
There's a nice neutral person there that can be compassionate and will know all the ins and outs of all of that logistical stuff, as well as just helping with answering some difficult questions that managers are not good at answering. For example, most companies will not be providing any sort of reference. It's usually written right into a policy that you wouldn't provide a reference, in my experience at least.
They're going to ask, "Can you provide me with a reference?" The manager is always going to want to say yes, because what the manager wants to do is they want to make themselves feel better. The manager wants to make the manager feel better, and they want to go above and beyond and start giving extras and little things here and there and adding on and like, "Yes, we can be more lenient in certain situations," but we in HR know that that can really turn into difficult situations. We really can't be giving you a reference or--
[00:14:34] Alexa: Well, probably much more appropriate in an instance where you're letting someone go because you're changing the role or you're eliminating the role or you're-- where you're like, "We actually just don't need whatever, graphic designer, for this project anymore. We'd be happy to help you find or be supportive in your next move versus you haven't been performing, we're letting you go, no reference."
[00:14:52] Tyson: Even still, the way I've seen it done mostly is just employment verification letters. I have worked for two large publicly traded companies, and they're so strict in terms of providing references.
[00:15:04] Alexa: Yes. I don't think it's quite as bad when you're [crosstalk].
[00:15:08] Tyson: Yes, exactly. It would really depend on the company. Going back to that point though, it's important because HR needs to be there to hold the line and to be neutral, because we probably don't have as close relationship as the manager and the employee would. I've seen the worst, like, managers crying while delivering this hard news, and I hate that. Like, don't cry. Do not cry. HR definitely don't cry, but the manager should not be crying. It's not a great look. [laughs] It's so not good. I do think it's important for those reasons for HR to be there. I don't think that HR should be owning the message, though.
[00:15:51] Alexa: I agree. They should not be on this. The reason I'm asking is, because we all know I'm the biggest evangelist for rebranding HR and getting all the negative connotations out of the fucking way. I think this is one of the ones that contributes very heavily to the negative connotation of HR. I remember my very first job on Wall Street, these recruiters, these talent acquisition people, were wining and dining us during our internships. They were everybody's best friend.
Then all of a sudden when we actually worked there, and somebody was hooking up with somebody in the office, like, something went down, everybody was like, "Oh my God, don't let the HR team find out." Like, don't let those people find out. Like, they're the ones in charge of firing you. I think that's just a misconception, because we were young and stupid and didn't know and nobody told us. It's Wall Street.
Like, everybody is fearing for their job all the time. It's a very unhealthy environment, but the thing that struck me was more like, "Well, wait a minute, actually that has nothing to do with their job." Why is that the perception? I think that holds true, and a lot of people are like, "Oh man, don't tell HR." Like, I can't let them know that I want something, something is changing in my life or that I might move or that this might happen.
When you are associated with the team that's in charge of firing people, I feel like it only works against the brand of what you're trying to do internally, which is actually create an environment where not very many people have to get fired if ever.
[00:17:11] Tyson: Yes. Exactly.
[00:17:12] Alexa: They're like at odds with each other.
[00:17:13] Tyson: Yes, for sure. I think you just have to, I would say rather than like taking away HR partnering through a termination, what you need to do is you need to add HR partnering through more of the good stuff. Like, you need to make more of an effort to be a human working in Human Resources. Often, when I worked at a previous company, and I would go through major, major, major rounds of layoffs, like, sit there for a day and just go through 20 people. The number of times that I would have people come to me afterwards and ask how I was doing, because they know, they're like, "Wait, this isn't Tyson's decision obviously, she's just like the--
[00:17:55] Alexa: She got to take on the chin for the rest of us.
[00:17:56] Tyson: Yes. Just has to be there to support. People didn't see me as the terminator or anything, but they knew that I would be a part of those meetings. What also happened is there was one room that we always used. It was on the first floor by the door, and anytime I was in that room or I booked that room, it would get out and the whole office would know Tyson booked the room on the first floor, and so the rumor would get out, like, "Oh, shit. Those board rooms are being booked. Terminations are coming." That was a bit of a problem, but it was more of a safety thing why we had to use those rooms.
[00:18:36] Alexa: Because they're by the door?
[00:18:37] Tyson: Yes, exactly. Actually really funny story. My first ever supervisor and HR, she was so funny. She always told me going into a termination meeting, she's always like, "Tyson, know your exit. Always, always, always [crosstalk] by the door."
[00:18:55] Alexa: See the exit.
[00:18:55] Tyson: Yes. She's like, "Make sure that you are never sitting on the inside. The manager sits on the inside, you sit next to the door. HR always sits closest to the door."
[00:19:05] Alexa: That sounds so paranoid to me. That's so ridiculous. Don't anyone take that advice.
[00:19:11] Tyson: I will say though, she actually had a friend in HR who was physically attacked.
[00:19:17] Alexa: Well, [crosstalk]. Do you have any examples or anecdotes of people who just wild out?
[00:19:22] Tyson: Yes. I definitely have had some not physically aggressive, but I've definitely had very interesting situations. Once, this one woman, she started questioning us, and I was with a really weak manager, and she started questioning us. At some point, you have to pipe in and say, "You know what? We're going to end this conversation, the manager is going to leave now, and I'm going to take you through the next steps." She was basically like, "You be quiet, you be quiet, you're HR, you don't know anything, be quiet." [laughs] I was like, "You know what? Then--
[00:19:56] Alexa: This is why you're getting fired.
[00:19:58] Tyson: Yes, exactly. I think at that moment, the manager literally, without saying anything, stood up and ran out of the room. It was like mid conversation, and he just stood up and ran, and I was like--
[00:20:12] Alexa: Oh, wow.
[00:20:14] Tyson: Honestly, it was probably the best thing he could have done in that situation, like, he needed to get out of the room.
[00:20:18] Alexa: Yes. Rip the band-aid off.
[00:20:19] Tyson: Exactly. I've had so many people be rude to me during termination meetings and then follow up later and send me an email and apologize. That happens a lot.
[00:20:29] Alexa: Yes, I'm sure it does.
[00:20:30] Tyson: It happens a lot, but I have to say, I think the best firing that I've ever done was I'm sitting with the manager in the room waiting for the person. You're sitting in the room, you call the person, and this is back when we were in the office, you call the person in. Basically, you're sitting there, phone him up, "Hey, can you meet me in whatever room?" Waiting, waiting, waiting. We must have waited 15 minutes. We're like, "Where is this guy?" Anyway, I feel like 20 minutes later, he walks in the room, he's got his backpack. He doesn't even sit down. He just says, "I'm fired?" We were like, "Yep." He's like, "okay, thanks," and he took his envelope and left. He didn't talk to us at all.
[00:21:14] Alexa: How did he know?
[00:21:16] Tyson: Because he was like a leftover. Sometimes what happens is you organize a full day of layoffs but for various reasons, someone is sick, someone is on vacation, whatever, the person didn't show up to work, they worked from home that day. You have to play catch-up, because the idea is you want to get it all done in one day so the people aren't sitting on the edge of their seats terrified, if you're doing a large-scale layoff. He knew because half the office was let go and he was shittiest performer. He just came in and he knew it. It was so funny. I actually saw him at a restaurant.
[00:21:49] Alexa: Kind of gangster, though. Like [crosstalk]
[00:21:51] Tyson: I saw him at a restaurant, I was like, "Oh my God, I'm so embarrassed." There's nothing worse than running into people that you fired in public. [laughs]
[00:21:59] Alexa: Yes, but according to you, Tyson, it wasn't you, it was the team.
[00:22:03] Tyson: Exactly.
[00:22:04] Alexa: You're just there to soften the blow.
[00:22:06] Tyson: It's just awkward, but that's actually a good point. I had a question, "How do you handle firing people in a good way?" My advice is just act as if you're going to see them again or meet them again or work with them again.
[00:22:18] Alexa: 1000%, don't burn bridges.
[00:22:19] Tyson: Exactly.
[00:22:20] Alexa: I hate to say this. I fucking hate Gary Vaynerchuk. I think he is such an obnoxious human, very successful, I'd happily take his dollars, but I just find him to be a caricature of a fucking famous person, and he's very obnoxious to me. He continues to post on LinkedIn something that I can't actually disagree with, which is like, it really matters how you treat employees on their way out.
[00:22:42] Tyson: Yes.
[00:22:43] Alexa: It really does matter. Even in a crazy way, the ones you let go for cause, assuming there's nothing super illegal going on, like, people fuck up. People have all kinds of circumstances people are not aware of, like, you've got to let people go exactly like you said, like, that person is going to walk into a bar in two years and you want to make sure it's not super awkward.
[00:23:04] Tyson: You want to make sure they buy you a drink.
[00:23:06] Alexa: Yes, exactly. Or at least know, like, "Hey, there was no ill will there, like, it was just a hard decision that people had to make." Like, hard things are hard. You want to set them up to make sure that if you're letting them go, they feel as if there is a future for them. The goal is not to break someone down beyond repair, it's to articulate why this particular person's skills and performance are not a fit for the business that you operate within. It's not personal, is probably the more cliché way to say it.
I think so many people do that wrong. One thing I really want your thoughts for our audience is, maybe we'll disagree here, I don't know, but how do you feel about the messaging to the larger organization after a termination, to a team, to an organization, whatever the appropriate context is for who gets fired, but like, what's your take on best practices for like, "Okay, we let Jimmy go." Now, what do we go tell everybody else?
[00:24:09] Tyson: Yes. If Jimmy was just a one-off and Jimmy wasn't performing, then I think it's extremely important that as soon as possible the manager brings their team in for a huddle. Not a Slack message, not an email, but the immediate team that Jimmy worked with. Bring them in for a huddle and say, "I just wanted to give you guys an update that Jimmy no longer works for the company. I can't share any further details at this time. Of course, if you want to speak one on one, please feel free to reach out." In my experience, the reason why people want to reach out one on one is not to talk about Jimmy, but it's to talk about themselves because all of a sudden they're thinking, "Oh shit, what did Jimmy do?"-
[00:24:50] Alexa: "Am I on the chopping block?"
[00:24:51] Tyson: -"What did Jimmy do to get fired?" They want to reach out, and they want to talk about their own performance and how they're doing and have a conversation about how do these things work, "Would I know? Was Jimmy surprised? If something was wrong, would you tell me?" That's usually what comes out of those conversations.
Then it's important just to make sure that anybody that Jimmy was working with is given a heads up. I do not like it when someone goes into Slack and sees Jimmy deactivated or their emails gone or something like, whatever the signaling is in your organization. That would be if it was sort of like a one-off, and then if this was a larger layoff situation, then it's basically like bring everybody in for a meeting and say, "Hey, this is basically why this happened," and I've been a part of many of these conversations, "So this is why this happened. A number of people were let go, your supervisors will be in touch with you to give you more details."
Again, that would be probably from the highest level person communicating that and then the subteams can talk or have one-on-one sort of thing after that.
[00:25:53] Alexa: You're saying immediately, like same day?
[00:25:56] Tyson: Immediately. As fast as possible. [crosstalk] with the termination, yes.
[00:26:03] Alexa: This is the thing I see, at least small-to-medium size companies I've worked with, fuck up so often. Is that there's a big lag between we let Jimmy go and we told the team that Jimmy is gone or Jimmy quit and we told the team that Jimmy quit or if there was a group that got let go or a group of people that got let go. Like, if when there is a lag, all that it creates is an amplified rumor mill where shit gets out from under you, and it is so toxic if you are going to let someone go.
The first thing I always tell people is, if there's a part of the story or if there's, someone is leaving or there's some certain circumstances where you may ask the person who's leaving the organization what they want to be communicated, if there's anything sensitive, or who they may need to communicate it to before it is communicated to the larger team.
There's just certain instances that it's not worth getting into all the specifics where you might be like, "Okay, this person is leaving for a family reason or whatever." "What are you sensitive to us saying and not? And blah-blah-blah," but once you get beyond that and you understand if there's any special parameters, the very next thing that happens is that everyone who's affected should be told. I have seen this countless times where someone leaves or someone gets fired and the organization waits a few days.
[00:27:19] Tyson: Yes, I know.
[00:27:19] Alexa: By the time they quit on Monday and you get to the Friday team meeting, like somebody died, someone was sleeping with someone, somebody got shot, like, this guy was cheating, this guy was fraudulent. Just the fucking shit that comes out of people's imaginations when they don't have information and they feel out of control will only work against you 10x versus just the truth. Just get it out there, don't sugar coat it, don't fucking wait. If somebody left, just own it, you're not going to fix it. It's like it sucks, and I feel like, especially smaller startups that I've worked with, they take it really personally.
They're like, "Oh fuck, this big person in our organization is quitting," and it's like it doesn't matter, just get it out there. The best thing you can do is just put it on blast and then let the organization heal together instead of waiting three days and then have everybody being like, "Oh, they were paying him like shit, or oh, he was sleeping with the COO, or oh--" You absolutely don't want that shit to happen.
[00:28:16] Tyson: [crosstalk], they're not done yet. That's what usually people say.
[00:28:19] Alexa: Yes. That's the [unintelligible 00:28:20]. Exactly. Like, "Oh shit, who else is on the chopping block?" It's like yes, yes. Just nip that shit in the butt, it is not hard. You know, hard things are hard, just own it.
[00:28:29] Tyson: Actually, that's a good point. There are a lot of situations in which you would have someone communicating their exit. We've all seen those situations where someone has stepped down or they've announced their retirement very suddenly. Usually, that's reserved, like in my experience, it's reserved for people who are really senior or who have been there for a donkey's age and have a lot of respect for some reason.
[00:28:53] Alexa: Donkey's age, is that a Canadian expression?
[00:28:56] Tyson: [laughs] I guess so. "A long time."
[00:28:57] Alexa: I've never heard that.
[00:28:59] Tyson: Anyways, sometimes you will allow someone to communicate that they've decided to leave on their own. Usually in those cases, like, again, the logistics are so tight, you've got your legal team who has reviewed the communications. I think no one should ever minimize the amount of logistics that go into firing people. The planning that it takes to do so, it's a lot easier in the virtual world, I have to say, because you don't have to worry about people whispering and people seeing HR sitting in that room next to the door. It's a lot easier to do virtually like I will say.
[00:29:40] Alexa: But people talk, like, the person who gets fired is going to talk to their colleagues they're friends with. Don't forget that, they're going to take exactly how they got treated in that meeting, and they're going to tell everyone.
[00:29:50] Tyson: Oh, 100%, yes.
[00:29:51] Alexa: Which is why it's so important to do this right.
[00:29:53] Tyson: Yes, exactly. Like I said, I've had some really good meetings. I've had a lot of people thank me. I've had people send me messages saying that I was very compassionate in the meeting, but then I've had a lot of real shitty situations.
[00:30:04] Alexa: What have you done horribly wrong? What are some lessons learned?
[00:30:07] Tyson: One time, this was back when I was in person, I pulled out the wrong letter. I was doing probably six terminations in a day. I was sitting there with a stack of letters in a bag, with a computer bag. I had the person sitting in front of me, and I pulled out the letter, and it had somebody else's name on it.
[00:30:24] Alexa: Oh shit.
[00:30:24] Tyson: Luckily for me, I had the details of this person's termination memorized. I took the letter, I put my hand over the person's name, took the letter, I put it back in the envelope, and I just verbally communicated to the person. I was able to cover my ass in that situation.
[00:30:43] Alexa: Was the other person whose name was on it also getting fired?
[00:30:47] Tyson: Yes, because I had a list of all the letters of people getting fired. Yes, yes, yes. I just mixed them up.
[00:30:50] Alexa: Got it. Okay.
[00:30:52] Tyson: I pulled the wrong one out or whatever. I had them labeled wrong. That's very unlikely. I'm a very type-A organized human being, especially when I'm doing stuff like this. That was just a moment because we were doing so many at that time. I've sometimes ended up in situations where I have taken pity on people. I have made gameday decisions in the moment. Like I mentioned before, somebody brought up the fact that they needed benefits for some reason and that it was more important to them to have benefits than any money and blah-blah-blah.
I basically just called it in the meeting, and I just told them that I would extend benefits and then I got my hand slapped for that, but it worked out for the person better. It was fine. I just had to fix it after. I committed to something live in the meeting that, again, I had to make a gameday decision, and that happens a lot because all of a sudden, someone is like, "I literally just told my manager I was pregnant." You're like, "Ugh."
[00:31:57] Alexa: That's dicey.
[00:31:58] Tyson: Usually, stick to the plan. Don't make in-the-moment decisions because you're going to make it emotionally. Stick to the plan.
[00:32:06] Alexa: Yes. In sales, this is what we call absent authority. When someone is asking for something, you say, "I don't have the authority to make that decision, but I can talk to the people that do, and I will let you know." Whether or not you do have the ability to do that, it doesn't matter. You just say, like, "I don't have the authority in this situation to present you with anything except what's on this piece of paper, but I'm hearing your concern, I understand your special situation.
When we leave this meeting, I'll talk to the people that I can circle up, and we'll get back to you if there's anything we can adjust." That's a way to say, like, "I'm going to try to root for you, but I'm not going to commit to shit I can't do."
[00:32:42] Tyson: Yes, that's a good tip.
[00:32:44] Alexa: We call it absent authority in the sales world, [crosstalk] salesperson.
[00:32:44] Tyson: That's a really good tip.
[00:32:49] Alexa: You basically say, "Let me talk to my manager. I'll get back to you" kind of thing. It's helpful because it also takes the pressure off of you, because there is actually probably realistically, Tyson, someone you have to talk to about that.
[00:32:58] Tyson: Oh, and there was.
[00:32:59] Alexa: You should probably do it before you commit to it. Absent authority is [crosstalk]
[00:33:01] Tyson: Yes. That's one of those moments of asking for forgiveness versus permission because you come back and you're like, "Oops. Sorry. I already committed to it." Oftentimes, because of legal crap, it's like, "Oh shit. Okay" and then you just have to make up for it. Yes, I don't know. I was actually really--
[00:33:17] Alexa: What are the pitfalls that-- You said the L word, so I'm going to call you out on it. This is the thing with hiring and firing, especially nowadays because everything is a fucking charge that people are terrified of, is what can I say? What can't I say? What shouldn't I say? What's going to get me in trouble? You just mentioned that someone said, "Oh, I'm getting fired, but I just told my manager I was pregnant."
There's some dicey situations that you need to be careful of. Again, you're in the hot seat. It wasn't your decision. You're just helping deliver a softer blow. What are some things people need to, like, you think are pretty common mistakes that managers would make if you guys were in the room?
[00:33:53] Tyson: It would be like committing to something else or to be negotiating anything. We have already made this decision. Sometimes people will say, "Can I take an unpaid leave of absence until we get more work?" If it's a layoff, "I wasn't told that I was performing badly. Can I have another chance?" They're trying to negotiate in that moment. You can't. This is the final decision and you have to stick to that. Like, there's no opportunity for negotiation. Same with if you're giving them, let's say, eight weeks of pay, you can't negotiate that. They need to call a lawyer to come back to negotiate that.
[00:34:30] Alexa: Right.
[00:34:31] Tyson: You can't do any sort of negotiation in a meeting like that.
[00:34:34] Alexa: Just to be fair, for anyone who's listening, knock on wood, hopefully, everyone who's listening doesn't ever have to sit through getting laid off but were fired, [unintelligible 00:34:43] to not sugarcoat it because it's such a bad habit, but if you're getting fired, it shouldn't be a surprise, like you said.
[00:34:53] Tyson: No.
[00:34:54] Alexa: Also, it is too fucking late. It's too fucking late. The things you have to fix and change are not in that situation. They're They are in your next set of employment decisions.
[00:35:07] Tyson: Yes. It's not like we just woke up one day and decided we were going to fire Tyson. It's like conversation after conversation after conversation, and sometimes-
[00:35:16] Alexa: People don't see that.
[00:35:17] Tyson: -people don't see that.
[00:35:18] Alexa: Especially when there are shitty managers involved. People are like, "What do you mean I'm getting fired? I didn't know I was underperforming." It's like, "Well, your manager fucked that up, sorry."
[00:35:25] Tyson: Yes, and that's crappy. I've been in really sticky situations where all of a sudden you get people saying, "I'm being discriminated against." In those--
[00:35:37] Alexa: Yes. That's the shit I'm talking about. What are you do in those situations?
[00:35:40] Tyson: In those situations, honestly, this is going to sound terrible, but like, mum's the word. You don't go back again, you don't go back on the decision. You just say in most places, like you have due diligence to look into that further typically. You just say, "This decision was due to the performance and lack of performance and conversations that you've been having with your leader."
This is why sometimes it's good to have HR there. Again, going back to the fact that this is the reason for the termination, you're being fired because-- You would never tell someone they're being fired. We're ending your employment because of performance reasons specifically, this has nothing to do with anything else that you're saying. I do take those allegations--
[00:36:25] Alexa: I hate that you can't just say that though, because whoever is in that meeting is going to walk out and go, "I just got fired."
[00:36:29] Tyson: Right. Then you can say, "I take these allegations extremely seriously, and I will look into them further, but unfortunately that doesn't affect the decision that's being made today based on your performance."
[00:36:42] Alexa: Guys, this shit is heavy, it sucks. I'm lucky that I have not had to do much of it in my career. It blows. Even being involved in the conversations with your other colleagues or teammates who are going to have to do it to someone on their team, it fucking sucks.
[00:36:56] Tyson: Yes. It's actually funny. This is such a dark-- I don't know if you know this, but oftentimes, firefighters or police officers, they have a really dark humor, and it's basically their way of dealing with the shit that they see and the really terrible things that they see. Anyway, HR has a little bit of this, it's actually so funny that you get into a room of HR people, and once the conversation starts going down terminations and the ways that we've fired people and anecdotes about firing people, I have heard some doozy stories. I've been pretty lucky in my career. I haven't had too many, and I've fired a shit ton of people, but it's like this dark humor that people in HR have. It's really funny.
[00:37:40] Alexa: Yes. You've got to have a little bit of a dark side to you because they just deal with fucking humans all day. It's [crosstalk]
[00:37:47] Tyson: It's tough. I do want to acknowledge that.
[00:37:50] Alexa: Yes. There's a mental piece to this for HR that I think gets overlooked, which is like, it sucks to be the guy that always has to sit in the fucking firing [crosstalk].
[00:37:59] Tyson: Yes. It's so funny. I was recently asked by someone, not in HR, this was someone that I work with, actually they're part of my client group, and they asked me, they're like, "How does it affect you mentally when you have to let people go?" It's funny.
Very early on in my career when I was super ambitious, I was just excited to be in those meetings because I was learning about them and I heard my boss talk about them, and then finally you get in there and you're like, "Oh yes, I'm in the meeting, I'm firing someone." It was more like career-focused, and I didn't really, I brushed it off. I didn't really think too much of it, but the older I get, the harder it gets because now I'm like, "I have a husband, a house, responsibilities, a child on the way."
It just becomes really, like, you start thinking about yourself, and holy shit, imagine I had to call my husband and say that I was fired and how embarrassing that would be to have to tell my family. You don't go down that rabbit hole. I used to do that. Now, I don't. You can't ever go down that rabbit hole of putting yourself in the person's shoes, although you should from a compassionate perspective, don't do that because it'll really mind fuck you. You have to separate it, it's a business decision. It's not a decision that you made, you're just there to make it best possible experience of probably some of [crosstalk].
[00:39:16] Alexa: This is one of those ugly moments where HR has to represent the company and is seen as a bit of the company's henchman. It's just one of those functions that, again, I'm not convinced HR has to be in every one of these meetings, but we can debate that later. I just think for all the reasons you said, I agree with for why they should be there. I just think, like I said, it sort of fucks with the whole function when everybody's like, "Yes, but you also fire me. You care about me, but you also fire me."
It is one of those henchman-level qualities, and the only thing that is going to keep it from ruining your team's reputation in people is to make it humane and just make it a business decision and try to treat that person as if it was like you getting fired on the other end without falling pray to some of the emotional stuff that you've mentioned, because it is very easy, especially because most people, People Ops people and HR people are, they like people, you don't want to go into a room and be like, "My job right now is to make you feel shitty about everything," but that's what happens. Right? I mean, people's job is like, it's 80% of their time, energy, money, et cetera. It's a big fucking decision.
[00:40:20] Tyson: HR is there. You're looking out for the person, you're looking out for the manager, but also make sure you're looking out for yourself. Check in after debrief with the manager, debrief with a friend or something. I always joke, I burn sage in my office, because I'm sitting in my home, [crosstalk]
[00:40:35] Alexa: Talk to your better health counselor.
[00:40:37] Tyson: [crosstalk] in my house. Anyways, you just have to make sure you're taking care of yourself and always checking in with the manager after too because I've gone back into some manager's offices after they fired someone, and they were in tears, and that's shitty too.
[00:40:48] Alexa: Yes. I'll say just in an effort to, we talked a little about making sure [unintelligible 00:40:52] at the end of these. We're not just always bitching, which I agree with, is I have seen some organizations do this really right where they basically choose to celebrate the people that leave, people that quit, even people that get let go, they'll, like, I've seen people create blogs about what those people are doing after.
I've seen people do, again, it depends on the organization you're at in the context, but I've seen people create a culture of there is a life after this company, then that's okay. Like, it's okay, and we're going to celebrate those people for being successful as humans, not necessarily just in this organization. There's really tasteful ways I think to treat people well. The other thing is, exit interviews, we could do a whole other episode on that.
We're running out of time here. I don't know how much you're going to get in an exit interview, that's going to be super truthful and helpful, but you've got to ask something, you've got to at least try to understand what went wrong, especially if it's a management issue or other things, like, it's not what's going on in that room is not always just about that person. I think sometimes that gets lost. Yes, it is hard, and I don't envy people that have to do it a lot, so Tyson, you're a fucking rockstar.
[00:42:03] Tyson: [laughs] I don't do this much anymore, but early in my career, I did a lot of it.
[00:42:09] Alexa: I think reaching out to your peers and friends who also have to do it is probably really good advice. Anything else you want to say on the topic of firing, Tyson?
[00:42:17] Tyson: No, I don't think so. I think we talked a lot. We gave a lot of tips throughout the episode, but again, if you take one thing out of this conversation, it's just treat the person with as much respect and dignity that you would want to be--
[00:42:30] Alexa: Like you're going to run into them in a bar.
[00:42:32] Tyson: Yes, exactly. The goal is to run into them--
[00:42:35] Alexa: Reduce the amount of awkwardness in that interaction and hold the line. I do think that's an important one because that is really your role in that situation.
[00:42:44] Tyson: Yes, you got it.
[00:42:45] Alexa: All right, Tyson, as always, it's been a blast, you're fired. I'm just kidding.
[00:42:51] Tyson: [laughs]
[00:42:54] Alexa: Unfortunately, someone stole that tagline already, unfortunately. All right, my dear, we'll see you on the next one.
[00:42:58] Tyson: See you.
[00:43:00] Alexa: This episode was executive produced by me, Alexa Baggio, with audio production by Ellie Brigida of Clear Harmonies. Our intro music was also done by the wonderful Ellie Brigida of Clear Harmonies. You can find more information about us and future episodes at peopleproblemspod.com or follow us @peopleproblemspod--