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You Just Fired Jimmy. What Should You Say?

Jimmy was a nice guy, but Jimmy didn't get it done.  You talked to Jimmy, you coached him, made him aware of the issues, but Jimmy didn't improve.  Jimmy also didn't leave under his own accord, so you ended up doing formal warnings to Jimmy to try and shake him into making meaningful change. 


It ended today.  You had to fire Jimmy for performance reasons.

Jimmy knew it was coming, and was really nice about the whole thing.  He asked you for aLeavingwork_2 positive reference.  Not sure what you could actually provide, you told him you would do everything you could in that regard based on the circumstances. 

Now, Jimmy's gone, and you start to think what you are going to tell the world about Jimmy once you open the door.  Some may ask you, some may not. 

What do you say about Jimmy?

Note that I'm not talking about your legal obligations, I'm talking about your HUMAN obligations.  The rest of your team, that used to include Jimmy, wants to know you're the leader.  Those on the next ring out of the organization are wondering where Jimmy is, and/or who's going to do Jimmy's work.  What about those further removed?  Do you owe them anything?

Thoughts?  Here are some of mine, because to say that everyone only gets mimimal information isn't leadership:

1.  The Team - Your team, that once included Jimmy, needs more than the "Jimmy has separated from the company" mantra.  Most of them already know the deal, and may have been wondering why it took so long.  Giving them the minimal response of "Jimmy's no longer with the company" erodes trust and makes them feel like you're insincere.  Give them more, be honest without putting yourself in peril.  Talk to your HR pro, or if you are the HR pro, talk to your General Counsel/employment law person about how to be real without exposing yourself to unnecessary legal risk.  It's possible to get both done....

2.  The Customers - Whether the customers are internal or external, they don't need to know why Jimmy's gone.  They just need to know that Jimmy's no longer with Dunder Mifflin and how they'll be served moving forward.  If you're slick enough with the phones and email, you can communicate those messages on an "as needed" basis without having to do a blast email that makes your team look like it's falling apart.

3.  The Company/The Rest of the World - Thinking about sending that unit/division/company-wide email saying Jimmy's no longer with the company?  Don't, because no one really cares and it makes your team look like the wheels are falling off, even though you're being proactive by removing Jimmy.

The bottom line - find a way to take care of the direct team with as much truth as your company will let you get away with, and treat Jimmy with respect while you do that.  Take care of internal and external customers, but don't send out the blast email saying "Jimmy has separated from Dunder Mifflin".

Half of the people reading that won't know what "separated" means (did Jimmy get divorced?  Who got the kids?).  The other half will think that means you fired Jimmy, and they'll email the first half to clue them in.  So, the cutesy email approach actually hurts more than it helps.... 


HR Wench

"Jimmy went to live on a farm...with lots of rabbits to chase and a babbling brook to play in...."

Wally Bock

My experience as a boss, coach, and trainer is that this is all so much easier if you've done the job right. If you've coached, counseled, corrected and encouraged Jimmy, and if he was a bad fit for the job, you and Jimmy and the team will know the score. And usually that will take care of the company and the world.


Three thoughts come to mind.

First... Benchmark the job and hire the best possible candidate. It blows my mind how little is typically known about what the job needs in terms of behaviors, values, and attributes. Chances are "Jimmy" did not have any potential for success in the first place.

Secondly... Not only did Jimmy see it coming - so did the rest of the team. Therefore, little needs to be said to Jimmy's former team. They are only wondering, "What took you so long."

Third... When you make a hiring mistake, transition the team member out. Include them in the transition strategy... "Jimmy... We need to see improved performance meaning specifically this by x date or you will need to seek other employment."

Been there before - only his name wasn't Jimmy...

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