Firing the wrong person

Bad firings are just that – bad. It is bad for the individual who is wrongly fired and bad for the organization. Staff know and that destroys trust.

Firing the wrong person by Nancy Knowlton

A number of years ago a competitor started a print campaign to promote its product. We were in the early stage of the development of the market for our products, and we were well aware of competitive activity virtually as soon as it occurred. We saw the ad in multiple publications in one month. For the life of us, we couldn’t understand or appreciate the point. That was a good thing, because we concluded that this particular campaign’s expense would pose little threat to us.

Failing to succeed

Some months after the start of the campaign, Dave ran into the competitor’s CEO and asked him very directly about the campaign and what it meant. Without a moment’s hesitation, the CEO said that the campaign was initiated by his new VP of marketing without the CEO’s knowledge and approval. Because of the weakness and ineffectiveness of the campaign, he had fired the VP. When Dave told me this, I gathered our small marketing team and relayed the story. We had a good conversation about the competitor’s campaign and why it was a bad campaign for the stage of market development. But there was a bigger topic of discussion and that was the firing of the VP of marketing for the failed campaign.

CEO responsibility

The point that I made with the team was that the VP was new and in learning mode. The CEO had started the business and knew their products and the market well. The VP had been brought in to take the company to the next level and was not just new to the company – he was new to the market. The fact that the CEO had not given the VP the support and guidance that he obviously needed put the responsibility for the failed campaign back on the CEO, not the VP in my view.

This situation was straightforward for me – the wrong person was fired. If the failed campaign was sufficient cause to fire an executive in his training period, then the person who should reasonably have been in a position to direct and approve its definition and execution was the one to fire. Simplistically pointing the finger at the new executive who didn’t know better was easy and wrong. A deeper, more thoughtful look would make this obvious to anybody who cared to take a look and could reason.

While people in organizations may initially accept the explanation for a firing like this one, sooner or later staff figure out that something wrong has transpired. While the firing is certainly unfortunate (or worse) for the individual, there is untold damage to the organization. Over time things like this add up to destroy trust in management at all levels. Worse still, they detract from belief in the vision that initially inspired people to join and then to stay. When the heart is taken out of an organization, it’s a hard thing to get back.

Latest Posts

Nancy Knowlton
Nancy Knowlton is co-founder and CEO of Nureva Inc. and previously the co-founder and CEO of SMART Technologies. She writes about education, entrepreneurship, business management, technology, innovation and other passions.