Firing people will affect your brand…

Dishing out pink slips will affect your business’s brand, but how much is up to you. In light of the varying actions of corporations in their rush to shed jobs, it’s probably appropriate to follow up my blog on firing people, and Brendan Lewis’s blog last week (Sack well and prosper) with a continued exploration of the topic.

Brendan raised some good points about the ramifications of how you fire people and what the results of that might be (both good or more often bad) for your organisation. Pacific Brands helpfully gave us a wonderful illustration of what not to do – and whether that was a failure of media relations, or in implementation of corporate strategy doesn’t really matter.

The net result is significant damage to the brand – I hear people saying that all their friends are going to start boycotting those companies! Ouch – I am sure Chesty Bonds is outraged…

But there is no getting around the fact that sometimes people get fired (or retrenched, or let go, or made redundant, or layed off – pick your own euphemism) through no fault of their own.

And at times it can be necessary for the survival of the company. Hard to swallow when you are one of the ones fired, but still true. (We will save a discussion about why employees end up bearing the brunt of bad corporate decisions for another time.)

However, it’s important to remember that for every person you let go, there are one or 10 or more left who knew and liked that person, who worked side-by-side with them every day. There were customers who worked with them, suppliers they talked to – that had relationships that became a defacto part of your organisation.

So when they are fired, the ripple effect extends way beyond just them, and when there are lots of people being fired the ripples can become a tsunami.

With that in mind, I am not sure it is even possible to make large cuts to your workforce and not suffer some sort of backlash against your brand – especially when your actions play out in the national media. But more relevant for the SMEs that read SmartCompany, what lessons can you learn from the big players’ missteps? Here are three.

Lesson One. Don’t send mixed messages (hello Pacific Brands). If you are asking your workforce to wear the brunt of “necessary” cutbacks, make sure the leadership is seen to be doing their bit – whatever that will look like in your company.

Lesson Two. Try to be fair. Give as much notice as is practical, make their settlement packages as generous as you can. Look for ways to help people as they look for a new job – can you give them contract work or part-time hours?

Lesson Three. Smooth the way. Bring in a recruitment person or a career counsellor to provide advice about what jobs or industry sectors are hiring. If you employ workers who may not have easy access to computers, set up a workstation that they can use to search for jobs.

This might all seem like it only applies to big companies letting go large numbers of people, but if you are a company of 100 and you fire 10 people the impact can be just as great as a large company firing 1000. Scale the lessons above to your company – they still apply.

The key to avoiding long-term damage to your brand with the people you fire and with the people you don’t but who are effected just the same, is just treat them the way you would want to be treated if it were you.

See you next week (with a more hopeful topic).


Alignment is Michel’s passion. Through her work with Brandology here in Australia, and Brand Alignment Group in the United States, she helps organisations align who they are, with what they do and say to build more authentic and sustainable brands.

For more Cultural Leadership blogs, click here.


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments