Why Are We Afraid To Fire People?

I think the use of the word “fire”, as in “fire people”, is a little bit extreme.  Might it be better to say “relocate people” or “transition people”?  “Fire people” is so punitive.  It’s angry and final.  It hurts.  And because the word and the act of firing has that connotation, it is an action very few employers do right.

Here’s why.

A person is usually fired because of any number of reasons, among them the following:

  1. He is not doing his job to expectation.
  2. He has a work ethic problem, i.e., he’s late, sloppy, etc.
  3. He is not a team player and constantly works against the group.
  4. He has an attitude problem.
  5. He’s involved in something unethical or dishonest.
  6. The boss doesn’t like him and wants to move him out.
  7. The boss has a family member, friend or someone else he wants to put in the position.
  8. There are financial difficulties in the organization,  cuts need to be made.

It’s always something.  But often I find that employers do not deal with the actual reason for fear of conflict, so they maneuver circumstances and rationale to “move the person out”.  And that’s where the damage begins.

Jeff and I faced a situation a while back when a Development Director was so inept, so out of touch, so ineffective, that she should have been transitioned out years ago.  In the situation we encountered, she had constructed a major gift program and hired MGO’s (and spent a lot of money) that was not only worthless, but damaging to the organization.

This Development Director had somehow maintained her position in the organization, in various jobs, even though she didn’t actually belong in fundraising at all.  She had developed, over time, a system that kept her employed and kept her supervisors either believing she was doing a good job or knowing she was not doing a good job but too scared to do anything about it.

We see this quite often in our work.  People in the wrong jobs doing the best they can just to hang on, and employers allowing it to happen.  This situation has several devastating and damaging effects:

  1. First of all, it hurts the organization in obvious ways.  Money is spent on labor with little or no positive return on the investment.
  2. It hurts the employer.  The manager is letting a bad situation continue, which negatively affects his reputation and professionalism.  If you are a manager reading this and you are in a situation like this, you really need to change it.  You need to change it because it not only affects your track record, which you will need to own and “sell” in the future, but it also affects how you feel about yourself as a professional.  This important detail will undermine your confidence as a manager, as well as your effectiveness.  Believe me, it hurts you just as much as the lack of production of your employee is hurting the organization.
  3. It hurts the employee.  You know how it feels to be doing work that you are neither good at nor motivated to do.  It’s terrible!  And having to get up in the morning and fake it for 8 or more hours is demeaning and tiring.  Then, having been through all of that, to know that the result you have achieved is below standards takes another chunk out of your sagging self-image.  All of this causes fear and anxiety which further takes its toll.  It is NOT a good situation.  It is like dying a slow death.
  4. It hurts other employees.  You’ve seen how a nonproductive member of the team affects the team.  It’s difficult to watch – and more difficult to experience.  And the longer it goes on, the more chatter there is about how bad the organization is, how bad the manager is, how bad the person is, etc., etc.  The whole thing creates a larger negative dynamic that, as time goes on, becomes more and more difficult to control and contain.
  5. In fundraising, it hurts donors.  When an employee who deals with donors is not performing up to standard, the donor suffers and eventually goes away.  Jeff and I have seen this happen far too often.  In fact, we have a situation right now where one MGO simply believes all donors are the same, that it is impossible and unnecessary to treat them as individuals, so he just does his direct marketing thing with every donor on his caseload.  This is so abusive and intolerable.  It does not honor the donor and it hurts the organization.  But it is the belief and work standard for this MGO, which is why he is not succeeding and why donors are being lost under his management.

Here’s the thing – the primary reason a person does not perform in his or her job is because the job does not match the person’s motivations and abilities.  It’s that simple.  That’s why, in my mind and management practice, I have changed the whole meaning of “firing” a person to “transitioning” a person to a place that really works for him.

Here are several examples.

A very good MGO is so good that the manager moves her into a position of managing MGO’s.  She fails.  Why?  Because her real motivation is to be out in the field talking to donors.  Her real ability is to help match donor interests and passions to the needs of the organization.  She does not have the interest or ability to manage other MGO’s.  She may have thought she did, but she doesn’t.

A person is hired as an MGO and fails at the job.  The hiring manager thought he would be good with donors.  He had a track record of doing well in major gifts in other organizations – or so his resume said,  but he fails.  Why?  Because he is really a systems, administrative, computer guy.  He would rather be behind the scenes creating order rather than out with donors on the front line.

An MGO is hired and fails at her job.  She is constantly organizing events and networking with VIP’s in the community.  She has worked her way into a relationship with the local television station and is on a first name basis with the editor of the local paper.  She is an unbelievable networker.  She looks good, talks good and knows how to influence people.  But when it comes to managing a caseload of donors, she is a miserable failure.  Why?  Because her real love is Public Relations.  She is not afraid to ask for attention and publicity.  She is terrified about asking for money.

So usually, the “fix” to a non-productive and unhappy employee is to align a job to the person’s motivations and abilities.  While this is easier said than done, it does work and it honors the person and protects the organization.

I have personally transitioned hundreds of people who worked for me and I know this works, which is why you should try it.  And if you are unhappy in your job, I suggest you take the time to look carefully at your motivations and abilities and how they align to the job you are in.

One thing I know for sure is that each of us has a unique set of motivations and abilities that perfectly match a job that needs to be done.  The goal is to find that match.

Richard

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About Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry

Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry have over 55 years of experience fundraising for non-profits. Richard Perry was co-owner of Domain Group until 2005. Jeff Schreifels was a Senior Strategist for Domain Group for 12 years. They came together a few years ago to start Veritus Group, a full-service major gift fundraising agency. Veritus Group has a unique, data-driven approach unlike any agency focused on major gifts. Jeff and Richard are passionate about their work, passionate about life and hopes this blog will provide you with insights and tangible benefits for you and your work. Thank you for reading!
This entry was posted in Hiring, Major Gift Officers, Philanthopy, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Why Are We Afraid To Fire People?

  1. That’s a good piece – and talks about something most don’t want to talk about!

    I’m sure we’ve all experienced the situation in many of its different aspects – and it does suck the life out of an organization. Poison like that has a way of spreading.

    The transition part is tough, though. Because one person is good at PR, for instance, doesn’t mean there’s a spot there – at the same or even a different organization.

    But I think you’ve started a very fruitful conversation!

  2. Richard Perry says:

    Thanks, Mary. The fact that it is a delicate subject requires we talk about it and deal with it. People are precious and they must be honored. If we can do just a little bit to help a manager transition non-productive people to a better place, the whole effort will have been worth it!

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