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You shouldn’t fire employees by surprise

2 min read


SmartPulse — our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Small Business — tracks feedback from small-business owners. We run the poll question each Thursday in our e-newsletter.

Two weeks ago, we asked: This week, Yahoo! made news by firing its CEO over the phone. Would you ever fire or seriously discipline an employee over the phone or in some other way that is not face to face?

  • No, I would never do it: 88.37%
  • No, I haven’t yet, but I would: 5.43%
  • Yes, I have, and it was a mistake: 3.1%
  • Yes, I have, and it was fine: 3.1%

The clear majority says “I’ll never do it.” And it’s possible you’ll never be put in the position in which you have to. Most of our employees are nearby, and we can meet with them regularly. It becomes trickier when you have workers far away or in another country. My guess is, as virtual and mobile work becomes more mainstream, we might see phone firings happen more often.

The thing that struck me in the Yahoo! CEO case was the appearance she didn’t know it was coming. Employees should always know how they are performing, regardless of what role they play in the organization. And they should know the consequences of not performing to expectations.

When we set expectations, coach for improved performance and hold employees accountable. People will anticipate that bad news is coming because they were told in advance and didn’t do anything to change their actions. At that point, administering discipline or firing someone is only delivering the message.

Sharlyn Lauby is the HR Bartender and president of ITM Group.