This is my second article in english in order to experiment with the language barrier in atracting readers. Please rate the article and help me find out if I should continue in english or go back to danish…
Many years ago, I was part of a group of four starting a combined art gallery and up-scale café. It was well before that became a well-known combination and it was also while I was too young to really know about business, leadership etc. Anyway – we were four dynamic guys and we soon diveded the management roles between us. The oldest guy – already in his 30’s at that time! – wanted to be responsible for the employees. It soon became clear, that what he really liked was to visit other cafe’s and restaurants in Copenhagen ’scouting’ for talent that he could offer a job at our place. Funny enough it also turned out that the most talented candidates were young women between 18 and 25 years of age… OK, fine – he went ahead and found good talent and he interviewed and hired. Actually a well done and sober job.
After a while, it became quite clear that the four os us were absolutely not masters in the business – we were loosing money and it became time to lay off the employees and start working ourselves (today I think this should have been what we did from the start, but we thought we could just enjoy and have fun while others did the hard work). Now this very ‘professional’ manager was no longer so happy with his HR-role – actually he told me, that he felt uncomfortable laying off people and aksed me is I could do it. Clearly I did not like it either, but life is tough and I went ahead. Everything was very un-dramatic and very calm.
Why was it that this guy could only handle the fun part of the job? And was he really different than other managers and leaders? Is that sort of chicken behavior acceptable? I think not. Stand up to leadership – or get out of here! A real manager or leader that is able to tell people the ugly truth face to face in a polite and respectfull maner is the one who deserves to be a manager/leader. All others should just realize that they are not worthy of the respect and followship from other people and therefore they should get out of here.
The experience back then taught me a few lessons. First, you need to be able to take the ugly part of the job as well. Secondly, no one should ever be layed off as a suprise. Maybe this point is the most important. As a leader you have the resposnibility to keep everyone up to date with the situation. Never hide the facts, tell them about the bad economy or whatever could jeopardize their jobs. If the problem is their personal performance, the leader must make sure to discuss this at an early state and ask for improvements etc. while guiding and coaching to allow the employee to improve. Simply saying: “sorry, you are fired. Your results are not good enough” should never be used. Only “sorry, even after talking with you about performance and working with you on your (sales)skills and even after we set specific targets and deadlines it is clear the improvement has not been there. Therefore I have to execute on the descision to let you go unless improvements were made”.
The way I do this in practice is to follow a policy saying: first you take a face-to-face dialog about performance and clearly staes what is not acceptable and what level and type of improvement is desired. Give this time to work. If performance is stiill lagging, make the statement even more clear by underlining that this is a verbal notice of warning. Still no improvements? A written notice of warning clearly stating what is wrong and what is desired. Miss on that and next step is a nice and firm goodbye. As manager or leader, your job is to make your employees succeed, not fail. Communicate, be clear and help as much as possoble and never let a lay-off be a surprise. Yes, the proces can be long, but you as a leader or manager will know how long it should be in your type of business and by acting timely, you are in control of the time spent.