When Virtual Firing Goes Very Wrong! #HRFamous

On episode 78 of The HR Famous Podcast, longtime HR leaders (and friends) Tim SackettKris Dunn, and Jessica Lee come together to discuss campus recruiting, how terminated employees can cause damage, and some of our favorite firing horror stories.

Listen (click this link if you don’t see the player) and be sure to subscribe, rate, and review (Apple Podcasts) and follow (Spotify)!

Show Highlights

1:30 – It’s conference season! Tim wonders if conferences will permanently have a virtual option now.

5:45 – Tim asks if the team has had any experience recruiting new grads or soon-to-be college grads. Tim calls out Handshake for changing the campus recruiting process. He asks JLee how campus recruiting at Marriott works and what the frustrations are.

8:45 – JLee mentions how a lot of career-center employees are out of touch with the corporate world and simply rely on their relationships to help their students.

11:15 – KD brings up John Nykolaiszyn from Florida International University (who was a guest on KD’s other pod Best Hire Ever) as an example of a campus career services leader doing it right.

13:30 – Tim harps on career services for hiding their students instead of making them really available for employers.

16:45 – Tim says that what CHROs want from universities and colleges is a LinkedIn for college students. They want some sort of database that is like LinkedIn that will allow them to search for new hires in their areas.

19:00 – Tim hired two new grads to his company and he had to reach out to career services directly to get on Handshake since he had a ”low trust score.”

21:30 – MarketWatch recently released an article about an upset HR executive that deleted 17,000 resumes from their system after being fired. Tim asks the crew to share their best resignation/firing story.

25:00 – KD tells a story about the termination of a blue-collar employee at a former company he worked with. He had to restrain the terminated employee to help save a manager.

27:30 – JLee’s story involves a fired employee and someone’s personal mini-fridge and helping them remove it from their office.

33:00 – Tim says that companies need to have their systems locked down when firing someone remotely or they can risk someone doing damage to their online systems and databases.

You’re Uninvited!

I’m not terminating anyone ever again.

I can’t terminate anyone, because I don’t hire anyone.  I do invite people to join me.  Join me on this journey, on this path. It’s going to be a great trip.  I invite them to be a part of my family.  Not my ‘work’ family, but my actual family.  I spend more time with my co-workers than I do with my wife and children (in terms of waking hours).  So, when I invite someone to join us, it is not something I take lightly.

That’s why, from now on, I’m not terminating anyone.  From now on, I’m just uninviting them to continue being a part of what we have going on.  Just like a party.  You were invited to attend, but you end up drinking too much and making a fool out of yourself, so now you’re uninvited. You can’t attend the next party.  I don’t know about you, but when I throw a party, I never (and I mean never) invite someone I can’t stand.  Sometimes a couple has issues with this, where one spouse wants to invite his or her friend, but their spouse is a complete tool and it causes issues.

Not in my family, we only invite those people we want to be around, life is too short.

Here’s the deal.  When you invited someone into your family, you usually end up falling in love with them.  It’s that way in business. It’s the main reason we have such a hard time firing on bad performers.  We fall in love with those people we hire.  “Oh, Mary, she’s such a nice person!”  But, Mary, can’t tie her shoes and chew gum at the same time.  So, we give Mary chances, too many chances, and pretty soon Mary is part of the family.  It’s hard terminating part of the family.

I would rather just not invite Mary to attend work any longer.  “Hey, Mary, we love you, but look, we aren’t going to invite you to work.  We’ll still see you at 5 pm over at the bar for drinks.”  Sounds so much easier, right!?  It happens all the time.  I use to get invited to stuff, but somewhere down the road, the group stopped inviting me.  I might have been a little upset over it, but it didn’t last and I’m still friends with everyone.  Termination is so permanent, it’s like death.

Being uninvited sends the same message, but there’s a part of being uninvited that says “you know what, maybe it was you, maybe it was us, but let’s just face it, together it doesn’t work.”

You’re Uninvited.

The Super Bowl Should be on Saturday: An Employer’s Plea

So, it’s the Monday after Super Bowl and 15% of your employees didn’t show up. As HR professionals we are not shocked by this, it happens every year after the Super Bowl.

The Super Bowl has become an unofficial national holiday. You don’t even have to like the teams playing to want to go to a Super Bowl party, or throw a Super Bowl party, because it’s become a national social event.

Kraft Foods understands this and instead of trying to move the Super Bowl started an online petition to declare the Monday after the Super Bowl a national holiday, since, they claim, more than 16 million employees call in ‘sick’ the day after the Super Bowl costing organizations over $1 billion in lost productivity.

Think you have a God-given right to be off the day after the Super Bowl? Kraft Heinz agrees with you. So the food company’s giving all of its salaried employees the day off on February 6 after Super Bowl LI…

In addition to letting its employees stay home, Kraft Heinz is launching a campaign to push for everybody to be off after Super Bowls. It’s started an online petition to essentially create a new national holiday it calls “Smunday,” which extends Sunday’s Super Bowl fun into Monday.

Okay, some of this is just good old fashion marketing. Kraft Heinz food group makes a killing on Super Bowl weekend, so why not try a marketing stunt like this to drum up even more business and brand recognition!

The problem with this solution is it doesn’t really help employers gain back lost productivity and revenue, in fact, it only increases expenses by now having another paid holiday (an expense), with nothing to return the lost productivity of having your entire workforce off for a day.

The issue is that the NFL should move the Super Bowl game to Saturday evening or day. Can you imagine the nationwide party that would take place, over what it already is, if the Super Bowl was on Saturday night!

The NFL already gives both teams an extra week off to prepare. Starting the game on Saturday, instead of Sunday, wouldn’t harm the players, wouldn’t harm the NFL, and bars and restaurants would have even a bigger day than they do already.

If Kraft Heinz really wants to help America, they should change their petition to move the Super Bowl to Saturday, not just make up another work holiday.

When Keeping It Real, Goes Wrong in HR

You might have seen this recently in the news. Three HR employees at Wyman-Gordon Company decided it would be a good idea to ‘secretly’ videotape and employee they wanted to terminate. Three HR employees who all had Master degrees in HR, and each with five years of HR experience at this specific employer:

Three employees at Wyman-Gordon company in Grafton, Massachusetts, are facing felony wiretapping charges for setting up a hidden camera with audio to record their coworker inside their workplace, reports CBS Boston.

As the investigative team at CBS Boston first reported in November, the hidden camera allegedly captured former Wyman-Gordon employee Mark Ferguson sleeping on the job. The company fired Ferguson last April.

Prior to his termination, Ferguson discovered the hidden camera in his workspace. He took it home for a closer look.

A clip he provided to CBS Boston revealed the HR employees setting up the camera. They could also be heard discussing the camera placement.

Ferguson realized if they recorded audio without his consent, it could be a violation of Massachusetts wiretapping statute. He brought the camera to the Grafton Police Department. An investigation was launched.

When I first heard about this, I wasn’t all that surprised. I assumed, wrongly, that it was some little company, with HR Pros that had no background or experience with HR. That is common in the industry. There are a ton of unqualified people running HR shops in companies that have no business being in HR.

This wasn’t the case.  All three of these guys had a strong educational background in HR and extensive work experience in HR. I will say, none of their LinkedIn profiles say anything about HR professional certification.  I don’t know about you, but my SHRM certification testing addressed this very issue!

This isn’t a small issue. These are felony charges. You can’t just go, “Oops, we didn’t really understand videotaping a crappy employee sleeping on the job was against the law. Our bad!”

Now, it was against the law, but I understand. Having to go to jail because you suspected an employee sleeping on the job, set up a camera to catch this behavior, and then actually catching the behavior, seems like it should work in the favor of these HR guys. But, it won’t.

So, what should these three HR guys have done? Just fire the employee!

Just fire the employee!  Sure, my brilliance in hindsight is 20/20, but 99.9% of HR pros in the U.S. would have just fired this idiot!

So, why didn’t they just fire him?

This is purely speculation, but my guess is they had an ax to grind with this guy. This guy probably had something over these guys, and they wanted to embarrass him. Maybe he was in a position where management didn’t want him fired, and HR was going to give them a reason they couldn’t ignore. Maybe this employee had just made HR’s life a nightmare over the past however long time.

Who knows, but it seems clear that these guys wanted to do more than just let this employee go. They wanted to shove it down his throat.

That’s when keeping it real, goes wrong!

Would You Fire Your Top Performer for Punching Another Employee?

The world of the NBA brings us the real live HR Game Show – What Would You Do?

I know most of you could care less about professional basketball, and I promise, this post isn’t about basketball. In case you didn’t hear last week, Los Angles Clippers Allstar, Blake Griffin, punched an equipment manager of the team, Matias Testi, after a game, while out at dinner.  In the face, more than once, and he broke his hand doing it. So, now he can’t play for the next six weeks.

Most people just chalk this up to stupid, overpaid, professional athlete does wrong. Not even page 1 news. Almost happens on a weekly basis.

For those HR Pros in the audience, you know, the Clippers have a major problem now!  One employee just did bodily harm to another employee. Not only that, your BEST employee just did bodily harm to an employee that can be replaced by a million people in a second.  Your best employee can’t be replaced, and if your competition gets him, it hurts your company. That’s pretty close to the truth.

So, tell me Mr. and Mrs. HR Pro – What Would You Do?

Let’s break down some options:

1. Fire both parties. It takes to get your butt beat. Both were engaged in a verbal spat that one party took further.

2. Fire Blake. He’s twice the size of the guy he hit, and he’s at a much higher level within the company, thus his responsibility is much higher on how he acts.

3. Don’t fire either. Which is probably what’s going to happen – but would never happen in the ‘real’ world. The two parties involved are friends. Something happened that shouldn’t. The lower employee has the job of his life, constantly surrounded by millionaire athletes, he doesn’t want anyone fired. He probably wants to apologize that his head wasn’t softer so he didn’t break Blake’s hand.

4. Fire Matias. He’s replaceable. You could easily cut a severance agreement for a small price and all this goes away. Being in the position he was, he should have known not to push Blake’s buttons and the value Blake has to the franchise.

5. Suspensions all around. Suspend Blake and Matias for their involvement in the industry. The problem with this is the Clips are trying to make the playoffs, probably will, and they’ll need Blake, which is about the same time he would be coming off this injury. Are you really going to suspend your best employee for the playoffs? Heck no. I don’t care about Matias, you can suspend him, no one will notice.

A real HR pro in this situation only has one option. Fire Blake.  He’s demonstrated that he’s willing to physically harm an employee of the company, put the organization in harm’s way by missing games, and even self-implode by not controlling himself in a scenario a normal person would.

This is where reality kicks real life HR Pros in the teeth.

The real call here is to get rid of Matias.  This decision on all fronts leaves the most positive outcomes for all involved.  The Clips get rid of a low-level employee for very little money. If he’s truly a friend of Blakes, he won’t cause problems, he knows where the real money is in this relationship. You can’t leave the possibility, even the remotest, of this, happening again. With Matias on the team, this could always happen again.

Real HR Pros gasp at this scenario because we all know where this would lead in real life. The courtroom. That’s where you miss one really smart play here, that you also can use, the severance agreement. Get them to sign the paper, hand them a check, move forward. The Clips would be smart to move forward, not without their best player, but without an equipment manager, they could easily replace.

Do I do anything with Blake? Yeah, something has to happen. I probably give him the biggest fine I can under the collect bargaining agreement, and maybe even go higher, just to prove a point, knowing it will get knocked down.

Agree or disagree? Hit me in the comments!

You’re Not Bill Simmons!

On Friday, right before the end of the business day, ESPN announced that it was shutting down its very popular site Grantland.  Grantland was a site started by sports author Bill Simmons, and it was purchased by ESPN a few years ago and Bill came over to ESPN to continue to run it successfully. Bill Simmons is an exceptional writer, and assembled a great writing team, and Grantland was a blog I read every day.

This is from ESPN on the announcement of shutting down Grantland:

“Grantland distinguished itself with quality writing, smart ideas, original thinking and fun. We are grateful to those who made it so. Bill Simmons was passionately committed to the site and proved to be an outstanding editor with a real eye for talent. Thanks to all the other writers, editors and staff who worked very hard to create content with an identifiable sensibility and consistent intelligence and quality.”

So, what happened?

Bill Simmons was let go by ESPN in May.  Bill had creative differences with ESPN executives. This happens with great talent and management. One is trying to make great art. One is trying to make great money. Those two things many times don’t travel a parallel path.

Since his leaving, many of the great writers and editors that he brought onboard at Grantland, and stayed at Grantland, left ESPN, either to follow Bill to his new projects, or to other media outlets. These were really talented people, who worked at Grantland because of Bill Simmons.

You are not Bill Simmons!

In my career in HR I’ve seen a ton of talented people decide to leave companies I was working at, and they truly believed the company couldn’t go on without them.  In every single case the company did go on, and usually prospered.  You see, very few us are a Bill Simmons.

Bill left Grantland, and it failed.  Some would say, he was Grantland, or Grantland was him, either way, the site could not live without him.

You probably don’t have one employee in your entire company that is that important that if they left the company would fail to go on without them. Most of us are in similar situations.  Your executives know this as well, even if they won’t admit it. The organization will live on without them. It’s a tough pill for us all to swallow, but it’s 99.9% true in almost all cases.

We are not Bill Simmons!

Which is to say, you don’t have a defining discernable talent that is unique enough to carry or bring down a company. That’s okay! The world needs ditch diggers, and lawyers, and accountants, and developers, and clerks, and trash collectors, etc. It sucks to replaceable. It’s just a fact of life for almost all of us.

Bill Simmons couldn’t be replaced.  That’s might be the ultimate job performance review you could ever have.  I’m so f’ing good at my job, if I leave this place will fall apart.  We all want to believe we are that person, but we aren’t!


What is your Organizational Expiration Date?

We got home from vacation recently and like most families we were foraging through the cupboards and refrigerator to make dinner our first night back home.  I poured some milk for my son, and he asked me “is that milk alright?” Like somehow I hadn’t considered its feelings, but he mostly meant was it still good.

Sure the expiration date had passed a day, or so, prior, but I did the Dad smell test, and that milk was more than alright!  He wasn’t in agreement, so our “alright” milk took a trip to never-gonna-get-drank-land down the sink.  Expiration dates on food are great. They help us understand when something goes bad, protects us from ourselves and what we think is good and bad, which can be subjective.

All this makes me think that we should have expiration dates on our employees!

It was recently rumored that Detroit Tigers Manager, Brad Ausmus, is probably going to get fired after this season.  He was a popular hire two years ago and led the Tigers to the playoff.  This year, though, the Tigers have not met expectations, with a team filled with high price talent.

So, why has his expiration date come up?  It’s all about expectations.  Once you gain success, it’s not good enough to maintain that success or, G*d forbid go backwards, you have to keep getting more successful.  The only way Ausmus get’s more successful is to win the World Series, which is tough to do.

There are a number of other reasons people should have expiration dates with organizations; these include:

  • Chronic Average:   This is for the people who just never really do anything- they just exist in your organization.  After a while, they need to just go exist at another organization.
  • Convicted Idiot: This is the person who makes certain bad decision, so bad, that their expiration with your organization must come up. Think, hitting on the bosses wife at the holiday party, or worse!  Probably can’t legally terminate them, but they need to go someplace else.
  • 1997 Top Salesman/woman:   This happens way to much – yeah, you were top sales person a decade ago, either get the trophy back or give another organization your attitude!  We tend to keep them around because we are hoping they’ll regain their top form – but they don’t – let them expire.
  • My Boss Is Dummer than Me: An organization can take only so many of these, for only so long – Ok, you win, go be smarter than us someplace else.
  • No Admins Left To Sleep With: I’m hoping the title of this one explains it as well – otherwise you might have reached your HR expiration date at your organization!

What if a drug could save your career? Would you take it?

It seems like daily we are bombarded by stories coming out in the media of professional athletes who are caught taking performance enhancing drugs.  They risk their entire career by taking these drugs and getting caught. This week and next NFL teams will cut down their rosters, and many players will lose the one job they’ve worked their entire life for.

I’ve often wondered if I was in that position, being a professional athlete making millions, would I take PEDs to sustain or grow my career?  I can’t initially say I wouldn’t.  I’m always thankful for not having been put in that situation. I’m extremely competitive; I’m not sure I would have the will power not to take PEDs if I thought I was failing.

Slate had a great piece a while back about a former professional football player, Nate Jackson of the Denver Broncos.  Nate was a tight end and was cut from the roster after 6 years and turned to PEDs to get back:

“I sit down in my locker for the last time. It was always a bit out of sorts, full of clothes and shoes and tape and gloves, notebooks and letters and gifts. Do I even want these cleats? These gloves? These memories? Yes. I fill up my box. Six years as a Denver Bronco. Six more than most people can say. Still feels like a failure, though. So this is how the end feels? Standing in an empty locker room with a box in my hand? Yep. Now leave.”

That’s it, right?  It’s the fear of losing all that you have.  It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, fear of losing what you have is a powerful adversary.

I’ve seen a grown man, with a wife and children, and a strong member of his church, sit in down in front of me and lie to my face, because of this fear.  You don’t have to be a professional athlete.

I completely understand this fear, and why athletes do PEDs.  So, I’ll ask you the question, if tomorrow you had a choice, lose your job or take a drug that will save your job, would you do it?

Hit me in the comments.  I have a feeling many people will say they wouldn’t.  I’ll let you know right now, based on my experiences, I’ll be skeptical.

Saying you wouldn’t tells me potentially two things about you:

  1. You don’t have fear of losing your job because you have another source income (I run into a lot of women who ‘become’ consultants and talk about how you have to ‘do what you love’, all the while having a husband who is paying the bills);
  2. You lack self-insight and/or haven’t ever experienced this fear of loss.

I guess, in a round about way, I answered my own question about what I might do facing the end.  Fear sucks – remember that HR Pros.

You’ll Never Forget Your First Time

I was twenty-six years old.  At the time, I was living in Michigan and working in my first job right out of college.  I had been doing pretty well for myself and began moving up in the company.

I had just got put into a position where I had a couple of people reporting to me, and I had to hire a new person to report to me as well.  I hired this smart, young person right out of college. Their passion and energy immediately attracted to them.

Oh, wait, you think I’m talking about…

Okay, let me start again.  This post isn’t about sex! This post is about my first termination!

Can you remember yours?

In my career, having to terminate individuals are some of my most memorable experiences.  I think if you have half a heart, you’re probably the same.  When I talk to upcoming HR graduates, I always try and forewarn them about this part of our job.

Terminating employees leads HR pros to heavy drinking or other forms of stress relief. That is a fact.

From time to time I hear HR pros talk boastful about firing someone, and it makes me sick to my stomach.  While I’ve had to terminate individuals that clearly deserved it, I never took pleasure in doing it.  It’s the one thing that really sucks about having a career in HR.  We get to see people at their weakest moments.

Most of us pray that no one ever has to see this side of ourselves.  Let alone, be in a position, where you frequently get to see this side of humanity.

When you terminate someone, there is a good chance you’re going to see this person’s biggest fears.  I have enough of my own fears. I don’t need to carry around the fears of others!

My first time?

I had to fire the young kid I hired with all the passion and energy, hoping they were going to change the world, fresh out of college.  This person just couldn’t come up to speed as a recruiter. It happens. I worked with this person, encouraged them, but eventually this person was ‘dead-employee’ walking.

Their body kept showing up for work, but their mind and heart had given up.  No matter how hard they physically worked, it wasn’t going to happen for them.  So, I pulled them into the conference room and told them it was time.

No real emotion to make this termination more memorable than any other. The person was upset, and you could see this was not something they had written on their bucket list.  They stood up, walked out, and my life went on.

Nine years later, I’m working at Applebee’s in HR.  I was responsible for seventy restaurants, and I happen to stroll into one of the locations and there is my first termination working behind the bar!  I saw him before he saw me, but once he saw me he froze.

I went over to say ‘hi’, and catch up.  It was awkward and clunky, but I’m an HR pro, I was trained to do this.  After me letting him go, he bounced around for a few years, and finally decided to go back to school, and had taken the bartender job at Applebee’s to make ends meet.

I saw this person a number of times after, and on one visit, he asked to talk.  He said that the day I walked into the Applebee’s, and he learned who I was, in my new position, he assumed I was going to fire him again.  I said, “For what?!” He said, “I don’t know, just because.”

It hit me hard.  This wasn’t about terminating a poor performer and moving on.  This person carried that termination around like a backpack for nine years, and as soon as they saw me, all that fear and feelings of failure flooded back to him.

Welcome to the show kids. Sometimes working in HR sucks.

What do you want to hear?

I think I might be on the cusp of the next great employee feedback mechanism for leadership.  I’ve been thinking about this concept for a long while. You see, for years I’ve had the opportunity to test out my various theories on employee feedback.  I’ve watched my own feedback theories change over the years, but they always were grounded in people truly want feedback about their performance.

That is mostly true.  People do want feedback about their performance.

Here is what also is true:

1. People want feedback about what they’ve done well.

2. People don’t want critical feedback. Someone asking you for critical feedback is really just testing you to see if you are either:

 1. Upset with them for how bad they did

2. Just seeing if you have the guts to them how bad they did

3. People really just want you to tell everyone else how great you think they are.

I think a better, more effective, way of delivering feedback to employees should start with this one question:

“What do you want to hear about your performance?”

At this point the employee will say stuff like, “I just want to hear how well I did”, or “Tell me that you appreciated my work”, or “Tell me I’m the best employee you have”.  This will then drive the conversation appropriately and keep everyone fully engaged.  “Alright, Timmy, you are doing really well. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate everything you do. You are the best employee I have.”

Timmy leaves feeling great and satisfied.  You don’t have to deal with someone losing their mind about how they are really performing. Everyone goes back to work with minimal disruption.

Yeah, I know what you really wanted to say was, “Timmy, you can do better. While I appreciate the work you do, I wish you would actually do more of it. You are like most employees hear, nothing special, but you could be.”

How does that conversation end?  Timmy is pissed. He creates a scene.  He usually ends up disrupting the work environment and kills productivity. He might even go out and find another job with someone else.

Is that what you wanted? Probably not.

So, make it easier on yourself.  Just remember to start every feedback conversation out with that one question: What do you want to hear?  They’ll tell you. They’ll be happier. You’ll be happier. Everyone can get back to work.

Feedback is is the leadership sucker test.  No one really wants to hear what you think about them.