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How Colleagues Are Terminated Really Matters
Telling others they are no longer welcome on a team or organization can be a traumatizing experience for all of the parties involved.
Good leaders know that how people are terminated is a hugely symbolic act that reflects the true values of the organization and its leaders. Those colleagues who remain maintain a watchful eye, knowing the same treatment could be applied to them.
Many leaders fail to reflect on the message being sent to all stakeholders, inside and outside the organization, when colleagues are blindsided by termination news, invited to bogus meetings where they are informed of the decision, or simply escorted out of the building after a meeting.
If the process of termination is disrespectful or insensitive in any way, it reflects poorly on everyone involved.
Terminated colleagues almost always have longstanding friends and relationships in the organization. This means the consequences of terminating colleagues have a ripple effect on relationships throughout the organization. This makes every termination highly personal, even when the reason for dismissal is a layoff or reduction in force (the so-called RIF in large enterprises).
The idea that layoffs are a business decision and not personal is ludicrous. Only leaders who see team members as fungible and expendable would make such a case.
Designing a respectful and graceful exit process is not that hard. Treating people like you would want to be treated is the best guide.
Explaining away the legitimate needs of those on the way out by insinuating that everyone knows this is how business works is a cop out. Organizations and leaders who say they lead with values such as respect, integrity, and inclusion must prove it in every circumstance, not just in team forums and on-wall displays.
The best leaders know some leadership acts carry huge symbolic weight. Promotion, compensation, and termination are the lightning rods of meaning in every organization. How team members are terminated carries long-term implications for leaders.
Truly caring about people is always the best leadership choice.