Terminations: A True Test of Your Company Culture

Dec 19, 2012

All of us have heard about messy terminations, and some of us have witnessed them firsthand. The most memorable are the employee who is escorted from the building, scowling at managers on the way out, or the guy who punches a hole in the conference room drywall in a fit of frustration. There’s also the person who quits without confrontation or communication, packing up their things when nobody’s watching, and leaving an “I Quit!” note for their supervisor.

The circumstances around other terminations are just plain awkward, and when you see the ex-employee in the grocery store, you unknowingly head to the Tampax aisle (even though you’re a single guy) just to avoid the conversation.

How can you avoid ugly terminations? Here are four suggestions for building the right culture:

  1. Don’t hire based on skill and personality only. Hire high character people. Don’t think of character as honesty alone. Character includes kindness (considers others feelings), service (good steward and peacemaker), humility (admits personal faults), respectfulness (treats others with dignity), and gratitude (shows appreciation). Ask questions that give you insight into these traits.
  2. Actually care about the people you hire. Some of the best advice I received as a young manager was, “Care about Aunt Martha’s big toe.” In other words, your concern for employees should go beyond their productivity at work. Genuinely care about them as people, and they’ll return the sentiment.
  3. Share your organization’s principles and explain the “why” behind your company’s actions. When employees don’t have all the facts, they frequently fill in the gaps with erroneous information. The more data you provide your people, the fewer gaps they’ll need to fill in on their own. This takes time, but it’s worth the investment.
  4. Stay close to your people. Don’t manage through reports only. Don’t assume your best or most veteran employees are fine and don’t need to talk with you regularly. Make sure you get out from behind your desk and engage in as many face-to-face interactions as you can. Have at least monthly meetings or lunches one-on-one with your direct reports. There’s no substitute for a competent manager staying close to a person. Be that manager.

At my company (Jameson Publishing), our hiring best practices have reduced our turnover significantly, but you can’t eliminate it completely. Last month, an eight-year sales employee left our team for an opportunity to be part of a start-up company. Here’s the email he sent to all employees just before he walked out the door:

Sent: Friday, November 16, 2012 10:49 AM
Subject: Good Bye!

Hello Everyone!

I wanted to send a quick email to say “Good Bye.” I have tried my best to get around to see everyone to let them know that I was leaving because I feel that it is time for me to push out of my comfort zone and take advantage of an opportunity to see what my potential can be.

I will truly miss everyone here. I have grown up with this company, almost 8 years. Two kids, engaged, great friends, and it has made me a better person.

People have different opinions about every topic in the world and that’s why they are “opinions.” Well here is a fact. One thing this company has done right and will continue to do right is that they hire stellar people. Great people. I feel that being a part of this company has made me a better person, and I contribute that to all of you.

One more anecdote for you: Two weeks ago, a former employee of ours spent most of the morning in our office showing off her three-month old baby boy. After talking with me for nearly half an hour, she changed her son’s (incredibly) dirty diaper on my office floor. Her son then proceeded to spit up on her shoulder, side, and lower back, which I helped clean up.

That might have been the highlight of my work week, even though our sales team brought in over $1 million that week. It reinforced to me that we’ve built a positive company culture — a community that will always include our former employees.

Happy hiring!

And happy holidays!


photo from Bigstock