Think more than twice before firing

There are plenty of areas where technology has changed the way we work as teams. On a typical day, most of us rely on a combination of phone calls, email, and SMS. My more adventurous colleagues use IM tools, document collaboration, and even Twitter. Many people are already comfortable organising their personal lives using Facebook, so I think it is rather obvious that we now have plenty of ways to share information.

The way Twitter has been granted pseudo celebrity status by many journalists says a lot about how much our lives have changed. Many credit Twitter as the force behind the recent revolutions in the Middle East. Perhaps a Nobel peace prize is just around the corner?

Contrast this with the recent fall from grace for the humble SMS text message.

While hiring processes are inherently optimistic, not every new recruit is going to work out. One of the toughest tasks in management is successfully restructuring a team, and terminating employees. For everyone involved it can be a real emotional rollercoaster, and incredibly disruptive to the remaining members of the team. So it isn’t surprising that some managers would rather avoid direct confrontation, and try to find shortcuts.

So why is it risky to sack someone via SMS? And what about Twitter, Facebook, or even email? We use these tools everyday, so why is it wrong?

Well Fairwork Australia put it this way in a recent decision, which I hasten to add was not the first time that they fined an employer for termination via SMS:

“In this instance the notification of the reasons for dismissal was made by text message. I believe that this is an inappropriate means for notification of dismissal or reason(s) for dismissal. The employer suggested that text messaging was the most commonly used form of communication between the applicant and Ms Sarkis. There is of course no comparison that can be made between day to day communication about a variety of work and non-work-related matters, and advice of termination of employment.”

“Mr Barwick said that it was “pretty appalling for an employee to be terminated by SMS”. In the absence of any compelling reason why dismissal would need to be communicated by any means other than direct face-to-face conversation, I am inclined to concur with the sentiments of Mr Barwick.”

In other words, all of your employees are entitled to face-to-face performance management.

If you aren’t proactively giving your team members individual feedback, mentoring them, and tracking their progress against pre-agreed measures, then you are likely to run into problems.

Tackling difficult issues with employees is necessary to improve behaviour, generate change, and achieve the outcomes you need. Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott gives useful tips for handling difficult encounters with employees.

Termination is certainly not an easy option, and can be an expensive exercise. Poor handling of a termination will reflect badly on you as a leader, tarnish corporate image, and directly impact team morale. Your duty of care responsibility to your employees also includes ensuring their welfare during the termination process, and in many cases that will require some level of outplacement support.

Most organisations spend huge amounts of time and effort on their recruitment processes, to ensure the best fit for skills and experience. There is little point hiring talented people if job roles, KPIs, and expectations are not clearly documented.


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