Answering the question – Is it possible to make dismissal more human?
As people start to love working in a mwah. way, there are so many cases coming back to us, and we want to start sharing them. We see them as an antidote for cynicism.
This one is about a topic we get asked about a lot – Is it possible to make dismissal more human?
The short answer is ‘dismissal, whether it is dismissing someone from their job or being dismissed, is never going to be easy, nor should it be, but we can certainly do better than we usually do.
Some context – Our client is a small well-run, family-owned vineyard, that makes some seriously great wine!
Team of 30 working with them, ten on shifts covering the front sales desk. Nice culture across the team. Busy and the team works hard.
What happened – Four months ago, they employed a new Supervisor. Came with a good resume and two great reference checks. Nice guy, and seemed to fit in well.
And then – It’s clear pretty quickly that the new Supervisor is not a great people manager. He gets on with them, but he’s got no rhythm with the team and doesn’t seem to organise the work well. Simple examples start to show up.
On a very rainy off-season Wednesday afternoon, with no customers, the Supervisor has three staff there, and no work. People are trying to stay busy cleaning, and asking if there’s anything they can do ‘out the back’. The Supervisor is in the same boat – sort of lost at sea with nothing to do.
A week later, on a long weekend Saturday, buses are pulling up, and it’s super busy. At 4.00pm, an hour from closing, the two staff are run off their feet, failing to keep up, and the Supervisor is ‘Supervising’. The owner comes in, with sleeves rolled up and gets involved. It’s only at this point, that the Supervisor decides to do the same. At exactly 5.00pm, with a front desk full of customers, the Supervisor just up and leaves without even saying ‘See you later, got to go”.
These are two of lots of little examples.
Feedback – the owner of the Vineyard has been leading this business his whole life. He’s quick with feedback and with support to help the team. He initially takes the new Supervisor to one side and offers suggestions. These conversations grow into more formal feedback, and ultimately, some full on coaching sessions. The new Supervisor takes notes and nods. Nothing changes.
Moving to Discipline – the owner appreciates that the team is getting disgruntled. It’s a good group, and they step up as needed. They don’t complain much and aren’t formalising their concerns, but he can feel it in the air. The culture is breaking. Relationships are straining. There’s a bit of sick leave sneaking in on the days when they’re short-staffed.
The owner decides to formalise things. He sits down with the Supervisor and explains that it’s not going well. They go over the feedback that’s already on the table. They talk about any additional support the Supervisor needs. He says ‘No’ to support. Instead, he’s going to try harder, and he’s sure he’ll get it right. The owner writes some notes into a short half pager, saying ‘things really need to improve as it’s not working’. No one wants this to escalate any further.
Options – the owner is now concerned about the team and the culture. He’s just lost another great long term team member. He calls a lawyer and seeks a formal Termination Letter. A few hundred dollars later, he has one in his hand ready to go.
We talk about the conversation and options.
The Final Conversation – the owner brings the Supervisor into the office. He’s made the conversation when no one else is around. He talks honestly.
“You’re a good guy, but a Supervisor you’re not. I know your resume says you’ve got experience, but you’re missing all the basics”. A pause. Open to the Supervisor’s views.
“I’m hopeless at managing people. I sort-of pumped up my resume to get some more money, but I find it really stressful. I can feel the team respecting me less and less”.
The owner listens and understands. We’ve coached him that most people know when they’re about to sacked. They feel it, especially if you’ve been brave and honest with the feedback.
The owner then says, with great honesty, that ‘this is a small business, and we need everyone working well to make it work. For this reason, we need a great Supervisor, but I also understand you need a job. So, while this one hasn’t worked out, how can I help you get another one?”.
That conversation takes about five minutes. There was no going over old ground. Then the two of them summarised what jobs the Supervisor could do well and what they couldn’t do well. Then they picked up the phone and worked on getting him another job. Half an hour later he had two interviews booked, and within a few days, he had another job – a delivery job around the same neighbourhood.
All the Conversations After the Final Conversation – A few days later the Supervisor resigned to go to his new job. The team got together and had a few drinks after work, and everyone joined in. There were no goofy speeches, no strange comments about the dismissal, just good positive conversations about the new job, and thanks for being part of the team over the five months. The Owner didn’t share the tougher conversations with anyone else. There was no need. As grownups, everyone understood and was pleased there was a good outcome.
And that’s how human dismissal goes. If you’ve given feedback and been fair, every so often someone will be angry, but mostly they’re embarrassed and just want to move forward to a different job. Sometimes your most important role is simply to help them find a good alternative.
At the Supermarket – the owner told us that there was one line in our coaching that really helped him. We have an expression – “Always remember, you’ll see them at the Supermarket”. We coach people to remember that you’re not voting someone off the island. They’re just leaving your business, and you will see them at Coles or Woolies next week.
And that’s the truth. Every person deserves respect, and almost everyone wants a job, even if they’re losing their current one. Your job and your business is not the only good place someone can work.
Funnily enough, in this case, the owner not only sees them at the Supermarket, they see them every fortnight when they make deliveries to their vineyard.
Honesty, and treating someone as you’d like to be treated, is a good place to start. In fact, it’s the only place.
Dismissing someone from their job should never be easy, but nor should it be torturous and mean. Sometimes, it is just what it is, and everyone needs to get behind helping someone find a better place to be.