Build your brand: Letting someone go

Fired No one likes to let an employee go.  Whether it is firing someone for cause or being forced to let a good employee go because of downsizing — it stinks.  It’s a "keep you up all night worrying" sort of event.  Because it is so awkward and difficult — most people do it badly.  They rush it or talk for too long or just don’t manage the situation well.

Every single thing your organization does or doesn’t do impacts your brand.  But, the more emotionally charged the moment/event — the greater potential it has to color the brand.  The more "talkable" the moment — the great potential it has to color your brand.

So letting someone go is ripe for brand building or brand break down.  If you think that your employees will not dissect every word, you’re crazy.

When is the time to plan (yes….plan) how you want an employee dismissal or layoff to go is when you don’t have one pending.  Do a little creativity exercise.  If you think about your brand’s attributes and promise — how, staying within that space, would the event happen?

If you were absolutely true to your brand:

  • When (day of the week, time of day) would you let someone go?
  • Where (does it have to happen in the office?)
  • What would you give the leaving employee?  (Documents, phone numbers they’ll need, etc)
  • How will you end the conversation?  (hug, high five, solemn look, handshake, nothing?)
  • What part of the conversation will the employee repeat?
  • How will you handle the news with the employees who are staying?

This just scratches the surface.  My point to you is this:  How you handle this situation WILL  reflect on your brand.  Far better to be purposeful about it, don’t you thin

Guy Kawasaki wrote a great post a couple years ago about how to handle a layoff.  Well worth the read.

So let’s talk about this.  Share a story of how you either managed this uncomfortable situation or what it felt like to be on the receiving end.  I’ll bet we can find some branding wisdom among the stories.

Related posts:
Is your little red wagon stuck?
Brand your interview questions
Who will your employees mimic?

9 comments on “Build your brand: Letting someone go

  1. I guess I’m in the minority here.. but when I let employees go, I actually feel LESS stress than I did when I had them working for me. I always feel that as long as it’s done in a professional manner, my brand isn’t hurting… especially if they were lagging.

    Great post – I submitted it to

  2. Jay Ehret says:

    Several years back I was sales manager for a large, national media company. I had a sales rep who was simply not doing her job. Wasn’t selling, wasn’t showing up for work on time, wasn’t coming to meetings. I told the GM I needed to fire her.

    But wait, in the corporate world, it doesn’t work that way. After several weeks of documentation and filling out paperwork, I finally got the ok from the boss to dismiss this individual. It was the week between Christmas and New Year’s.

    I called her into my office and gave her the news. She was ticked. She said, “you could have done this before Christmas so that I have stayed home!” She wanted to be fired, was intentionally trying to be fired, and yet it took me a month to get approval to fire her.

    Don’t know if there’s branding wisdom in that story, except don’t work for a big national brand.

  3. Uwe Hook says:

    It’s one of the worst nightmares of managers of business owners. It makes managers/executives feel very small. One advice: Prepare a plan of attack and stick with it. Don’t let yourself sway by emotions, pleas or tears. It sounds heartless but in the end it’s better for both sides. If you can, work on a plan for the departing employees. Besides severances, offer them references, networking opportunities and other opportunities that make themselves hopeful for the future.
    Make it quick, don’t let it turn into a therapy session.

  4. Aloha Credit says:

    Thank you Drew for your deep caring. Having been fired at jobs in the past, I sense a great relief because I always felt something was missing in my life. I have been enjoying having a home based business now since 2000. Sometimes, getting fired is not a bad thing, it leads you to better choices, more freedom and greater happiness. From the employer’s point of view letting go of someone does not always have to be a negative experience. You could be doing them a favor. It will cause them to do some soul searching. Thanks so much for letting me comment on your incredible blog. Aloha Credit signing out

  5. Terra,

    Oh, I don’t think you are in the minority. I think when we finally get to it — we’re very relieved that it’s over and we’ve done it. I think many people worry about the HOW they are going to do it and what if the person cries or gets angry etc.

    But you’re right, when handled professionally and within the spirit of your brand — a company can survive it and even come out ahead.


  6. Jay,

    Oh, I think there’s brand story there. The brand story is that the corporation is more concerned with covering their rear end than they are about doing what’s right for their work force or their customers.

    Sadly, not an uncommon brand story for many large companies.


  7. Uwe,

    Great advice. It’s so easy to get caught up in the emotions of the moment. I’ve sure been victim of that. And every time it has happened to me, I’ve regretted it post-event.

    The guilt and discomfort of the situation can make us do some dumb things!


  8. Mark,

    I think Jack is exactly correct. No one should be fired out of the blue. There needs to be communication and a conscious effort to fix the problem leading up to the firing.

    And if, after working together to try to solve it, it still can’t be fixed — then they probably will be happier at a job where they can be successful.


  9. Aloha,

    You make a very good point. Sometimes being fired is the absolutely best thing that can happen to us. I believe that every once in a while, we need a good boot to the butt to get moving in the right direction.

    It’s not that we don’t know what’s the right choice. But sometimes, we simply cannot get ourselves to take that first step.


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