A professional at a client company with whom I had worked called the other day to tell me he was leaving because his position had been eliminated. I knew better. I knew there was a performance issue related to this person. But, when he was told he must go, his manager used “your position has been eliminated” as the reason, which it was not.
Yes, there are times when jobs must truly be eliminated. It happens in belt tightening efforts. It’s often why mergers and acquisitions occur in the first place–to take advantage of synergies. I’m not suggesting it’s right or wrong. But, it is a business reality.
However, firing people for this reason happens frequently without any consolidation activity in a company. I think it’s a crappy way to terminate people and here’s why…
What’s also a business reality are the managers who do not address performance problems straight on. They fail to give someone who’s struggling the honest feedback they need to succeed. They don’t help the person shore up his or her weaknesses. Then, when “the decision” needs to be made about the poor performer’s future, the cop-out “your position has been eliminated,” is offered as the reason the person must leave the company.
Leaders use this excuse for several reasons. Some by nature are conflict-avoiders. Some have done a pathetic job of documenting performance conversations with the under performer, so HR counsels the leader to eliminate the position rather than expose the company to legal action. Other leaders have never been adequately trained or held accountable for delivering constructive feedback. And there are some who know what to do, but consider leading others a major intrusion into their already busy work-a-day lives.
The worst thing about using the “position has been eliminated” rationale is that it’s an out-and-out lie. It’s the equivalent of the internal email and external news release that announces the under-performing CEO’s sudden departure for “personal reasons.” Certainly getting fired for poor performance is very personal. But we all know the guy was fired because he didn’t deliver. So we wink knowingly. But it’s still communicating to anyone who knows better that we are not telling the truth.
It’s the same with using the rationale that the position has been eliminated, when that really wasn’t the reason.
So rather than fix these root causes of a performance problem, we establish lying as a value to be perpetuated. It becomes a cultural norm–alongside customer-centricity, one company mentality, innovation, valuing people, integrity….