Jun 162004

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

Fred Wilson has a great posting today about how as a VC, it’s important to tell CEOs the truth when you don’t fund them so they can learn from the experience. As someone who’s been dinged by his share of VC’s (although not yet by Fred), I completely agree. He drew a great comparison to a conversation he had with a woman on an airplane about telling someone she didn’t want to go on a second date with him.

I’ve always felt that as a manager, firing someone is a lot like breaking up with a significant other. As the song says, Breaking Up is Hard to Do! This is particularly true when the person is either a long-time employee or is someone you have to lay-off, where the termination is not his or her fault.

When I think back to the first time I ever had to fire a person while I was at MovieFone, I remember it as one of the most horrific experiences of my life. Not to be glib about it, but I think it was harder on me than it was on her (and it was a lay-up – she was being fired for cause!).

Anyway, for an empathetic person, it is hard to look people in the eye and tell them they don’t have a job any more, whatever the reason. And I also think that people are generally well-served, even if they don’t think about it that way at the time, if they can understand why they’re being let go so they can continue to constructively develop their careers going forward and seek out jobs for which they might be a better fit.

Of course, in a non-layoff situation, someone being terminated should know why they’re being fired because a good manager would have coached them and given them appropriate warnings and conversations along the way, but that’s the subject of another posting.

Filed under: Leadership

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  • http://dwoolstar.blogspot.com Derek

    I had a conversation about this with one of my customers, and he explained that his attitude was, “If they’re not making me money, then it doesn’t make any sense.” His approach really took the emotional part out of it. And a few years later I plugged into that same attitude when we decided to lay off a staff member. “We’re not making money, we’re not happy, so we’re not going to do this [employ you] any more.”

    Employment is not about friendship or family, though we hope that our employees will bond with the mission of the company. Its about working, and providing services for customers in exchange for money. When that’s not happening, there is no business.

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