Monday, November 14, 2011

Tell them to their face: firing employees (a lesson from State College, PA)

Frank Roche, writing at his KnowHR blog, made the following observation the morning after Penn State announced that it had fired Joe Paterno: “Penn State did the right thing.” It’s hard to argue that every university employee whose hands touched the Jerry Sandusky scandal needed to be fired. While I cannot question the decision to fire Joe Paterno, I have a huge problem with how the school communicated the termination to him.

As I watched the PSU board of trustees’s press conference last Wednesday night, I was struck by how John Surma dodged any questions about how the board communicated its decision to Paterno. As he avoided answering those questions, I could only conclude that the board did not tell Paterno to his face that he had been fired. ESPN’s Joe Schad (reporting on Twitter) confirmed my hunch:
Paterno received at his home an envelope from a messenger with a # to call 15 minutes b/f BOT announcement.

When Paterno called he was told "you are relieved of your duties."
Don't get me wrong. I believe Joe Paterno deserved to be fired. What I take issue with was how he was fired. Every employee (let alone one with 62 years of tenure) deserves to learn of a job-loss via a face-to-face conversation. It is never acceptable to fire someone by a phone call, letter, email, text message, Facebook message, tweet, or a this-termination-note-will-self-destruct-in-10-seconds note left at the front door.

There is nothing easy about the communication of a firing. I’ve had to fire people. It’s the worst part of my job. It’s also part of what you sign up for when you assume a management role. But, as uncomfortable as it is to tell someone they are losing a job, it is exponentially more difficult to be on the receiving end of that news. Do the right thing by your employees and provide them the courtesy of delivering the news in person, no matter the circumstances.