“I have to let a sales rep go today,” my new sales manager told me.
“I’m sorry you have to do that. It is painful for everyone involved,” I said.
“I’m not sure how to do it. Can you give me some advice? I never fired anybody,” he said.
Mustard Seed Empathy
“The best advice I ever heard was from Lee Iacocca’s autobiography Iacocca. In it he said, “When you have to fire someone, tell them straight away you are letting them go and do it with as much empathy as you can muster,” I said.
“And here is a bit of my experience,” I continued. “If the meeting goes for more than five minutes, you screwed up. Tell the person they are being let go and the reason. Review their separation papers. Shake their hand and wish them luck.”
“Why is that?” he asked.
Their Listening Stops
“Once you tell someone they are fired, they stop listening to anything you have to say. Your relationship is over. Firing is the ultimate rejection. They no longer work for you. You no longer have any authority over them. And at that very moment, they don’t like you.
“The meetings that go beyond five minutes are not for the former employee. They are for the manager. The manager is trying to justify his decision and have the former employee walk away liking them. It doesn’t happen. So get it over quickly.
“The more you talk, the more trouble you’ll find yourself in. Not only today, but possibly in a lawsuit going forward,” I said.
He thought all that made sense. Later that day, he called the sales rep into his office. An hour later, the rep left the sales manager’s office screaming and slamming things as he cleaned out his desk. It was a big scene.
“What happened?” I asked. “Why didn’t you do what we talked about?”
“I told him he was being let go because he didn’t hit his numbers. Then I proceeded to coach him on how he might be successful in his next position. That turned into an argument on how I never liked him in the first place and didn’t provide him with the resources and coaching that I gave to the other reps. It then got personal and way off track.
“As much as I tried, I couldn’t reel it back in. What a mess!” he exclaimed.
Also published on Medium.