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Being Terminated Doesn’t Mean “Terminal”

Some advice for the fired and their future employers.
Being Terminated Doesn't Mean "Terminal"
Published on March 11, 2011 : 2 comments

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The Scenario

Today, Belinda Leader Extraordinaire flew into town to meet with you. She is accompanied by Eric the Executioner from Human Resources. Her lead-in words—“These meetings are always hard”—induce the same elevation in your blood pressure as hearing one’s spouse or significant other say, “We have to talk” (or perhaps the high school principal telling you on the phone, “We have your son with us, and he appears to have been drinking…”)

No good comes from these five words. You listen to excuses and weak rationale for why you are no longer going to be employed by the company where you spent the last 18 years working nights, weekends, and vacation days to make sure the job always got done. You look like you are listening but you have already moved to other things: How will I pay the mortgage? How will I pay the tuition bill? How do I tell the people I love?

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This article was featured on The Weekly Grind, Omaha’s young professional radio program, on March 19, 2011 - Listen to the show!

Finally, Belinda asks what you have to say as she and Eric hand you the severance package. You take the agreement, hold your head up, and say, “Thank you” (you are lucid enough not to tell her to #@*%! off, but you are definitely thinking it). You go back to your office, sit stunned, but not shocked, because Belinda Leader Extraordinaire was neither a leader nor extraordinary, and you knew it the first time you met her, and she knew that you knew.

So what now?

What the Employee Should Do

You not only did your job—you excelled. Your annual performance ratings were “Outstanding.” Your previous boss not only invested in your career and future, but acknowledged you as an advisor and significant contributor to the team. Your work was held up for others to model. So what went wrong and why? There is value in knowing, but recognize that sometimes it is simply politics—and despite your analysis, you will never completely know. So you have a choice to either dwell on what was or get to the difficult task of moving forward.

Take stock of your competencies and strengths as a worker. It’s a time to be sure that your skills are sharp, and you need to begin a new search. The market is an employer’s market (to a point) in that there are many talented, seasoned professionals like you looking for opportunities. There are also a large number of people staying in jobs that they find stale because of the uncertainty of the marketplace. Use this to your advantage. You were successful once, and you will be again because you are still talented.

If you can afford it (sometimes the question is how can you not afford it?), think about getting a career coach. These are experts who assist people tap into their talents and work through the transitions they are encountering. Don’t overlook the value of someone whose profession is to help people just like you.

What the Employer Should Do

There are two different roles/perspectives to look at here:

  • If you’re the former employer of this fired worker, what is wrong with you that you are naïve enough to let talent walk out the door?
  • If you are an employer who could potentially hire the worker who was just fired, don’t sit in your ivy tower thinking, They must have done something to get fired. You don’t fire people for no reason. (REALLY! Please don’t think like this!)

As an employer, if you see a long-term employee experiencing challenges with new leadership, don’t sit back; you must investigate. New additions to your organization definitely need your support and backing of decisions, but be realistic. New managers (I won’t insult leaders by referring to these folks as leaders) have their own agendas and subordinate allies. Manipulation and game playing is alive and well in the business world. Sure, sometimes tenured staff members do need to be moved on if they fail to embrace cultural change or business initiatives. But you should still look at the employee and ask the tough questions about why they were fired by their latest manager. They had moved up and through the organization; they had not only supported change, but they led the change. So why now, at the peak of their earnings, are they the bad guy? As the employer, don’t waste your own talent by being ignorant. There are plenty of motives for getting rid of someone who has been a star employee. And all of a sudden the star is fired by a new manager? Hmmm. Looks suspicious to me.

Now let’s look at that fired employee in the eyes of a recruiting employer. They perspire during the interview, fearing that one question: So why did you leave? They have spoken with career counselors, researched the right answer, and now respond honestly: “It was a difference in style and personality.” After a deep breath, they continue, “It was time for me to move on, and I did.” They don’t go into the gory details of how their boss belittled them on convenience calls, or how the boss’s minions ignored them at meetings. They don’t say, “I talked to those minions for only three hours in six months, and in the first phone call I got from Leader Extraordinaire, I was told that I was an embarrassment. How could I be an embarrassment? I was always getting compliments on my work, to the point where in a few months I was in the running for my boss’s job.”

Ohhh—now you get it. Office politics can be nasty business. You often find talented, gifted workers caught between the insecurities and ambitions of their managers. Not all that rise to visible management positions possess true leadership abilities. 

As a recruiting employer, reach out to these workers who appear to have been out-politicked out of a job. They are hard workers; don’t assume that they were the problem just because they were fired. Many of them would add value and creativity to your workplace. Look at their career and their overall accomplishments (and, of course, check their references). This is an often overlooked pool of available workers, partly due to uncreative (or unskilled) human resources interviewers who refuse anyone who doesn’t fit their perception of perfection.

But you know what? You aren’t going to hire someone who is perfect. Look at the applicant and listen to their answers. Can they do the job? If they can, then invite them to join your team and watch them grow.

KNicoliniKathleen A. Nicolini, SPHR, MBA President, Favor Human Resources Consulting


Lisa Kustka (not verified) says:

March 21, 2011 : 13 years 17 weeks ago

Lisa Kustka's picture

Very well done!!!

KNicolini says:

March 21, 2011 : 13 years 17 weeks ago

KNicolini's picture

Thank you for the kind words. Difficult topic for many but one worth discussing.

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