You probably saw this when it hit the interwebs on Sunday and blew up yesterday, but if you didn’t, AOL’s CEO, Tim Armstrong, fired an employee while on a conference call with 1000 AOL employees! Here’s the actual verbiage from Slate:
“It was supposed to be a conference call to rally the troops ahead of what would undoubtedly be hard times. And at first it sounded that way. But then at one point Armstrong can be heard saying (minute two of the recording), “Abel, put that camera down, now.” And then: “Abel, you’re fired. Out.” A few seconds later, he went on as if nothing had happened. The victim? Patch creative director Abel Lenz. Business Insider notes that if Armstrong fired Lenz for taking photographs it was an odd reason. Lenz always took photographs of meetings to then post in the company’s internal site.”
And we wonder why American CEOs get a bad rap…
I’ve been a part of some pretty ugly terminations in my day. Terminations when the CEO, or another senior executive, comes to you and says “Tim, go let go of ‘so-and-so'”. My response is always, “Sure! What for?” I say ‘Sure!’ first to make sure I’m on their page. I need the ‘what for’ because I need to put it on the form. In HR we always have a form, for that executive to sign-off on. In the business we call that ‘CYA’, technically. If the superior I was speaking to was hot, I would usually get this response, “Because I said so”. I would then quickly type termination reason: “Because I said so” on the form and ask them to sign it. This usually got to the real reason, as I’ve yet to run into a senior executive willing to sign the form with the reason being “Because I said so.”
To Abel’s credit, he responded with “No Comment” on Twitter from a bar soon after being fired with a picture of the bar. G*d, I love social media! This might be the most public firing I’ve ever heard of in a corporate setting! Clearly, we don’t know the behind the scenes information. Did Tim tell Abel not to take pics beforehand, and Abel decided to do it anyway? Did Abel sleep with Tim’s wife the night before, and Tim just got a text from the misses? Did Tim just hate Abel and actually planned to do this all along? I doubt those facts will ever some out.
I would pay to be a part of the HR weekly meetings at AOL this week! HR is vilified about 99% of the time by executives, the 1% when we are their needed ‘partner’ just happened at AOL. The CEO had a major brain fart, and now needs to know how HR will get his ass out of this mess.
So, I’ll ask you HR Pros! What would you do in this scenario?
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I’d tell the CEO he stepped in it big time and that he had damaged both his personal image of that of the company. He should: a) Apologize to the employee and ask him to come back;and b) Apologize to the employees for his conduct whether the employee returned or not. And the act of contrition must be as public as the offense; anything short of that would be seen as disingenuous. Letting it lay and seeing if it would blow over would not work since employees and shareholders would be watching for the next move. A CEO who loses his or her people rarely lasts long.
A similar situation happened to me earlier in my career. CEO didn’t take my advice. Lasted only another 90 days before the Board let him go, saying they’d lost confidence in his judgment. Lord knows how many careers ego has killed.
I was amazed to learn that AOL still had over 1,000 employees. After that maneuver, probably more than few resumes were updated.