Sack well, and prosper

I was reading Michel Hogan’s piece from last week Let Culture be your Guide and it occurred to me that Michel didn’t talk much about the people that were let go. Other than “we let them know why they were going and we worked with many of them again in the future”. Her article focused on those who stayed.

Now I’m not an HR specialist, or even truly a people person, but have been hired and fired plenty of times, and in turn have hired and fired a couple of hundred people. I reckon I have some insight, which I thought I might share.

The truth is that most people in their lifetime will be “let go”. You can kid yourself that the ex-employee was a great person who took it on the chin, but it’s not actually what happened. It’s always personal.

Everyone goes home shell shocked, no matter whether they were expecting it or not.

So I reckon you have two choices. When letting staff go you can either create a free sales force, or like Dr Frankenstein breathe life into a new creature, which I like to call “the Ambassador of Hate”. More on this later, but first:

I have fired people in lots of different ways, three stand outs are.

  1. The 30-year-old programmer who was given a garbage bag for his belongings and escorted off the premises in tears. I said “Now f**k off”. Not only was he surprised by what happened but humiliated in front of his peers.
  2. The 45-year-old sales manager who was given a month’s notice and was allowed to work the time out. It appears that over the month he emailed home copies of our documents, processes and customer lists.
  3. The 20-year-old accounts clerk that was terminated then given a six month contract so that she would end up with more in her pocket and more flexibility while she looked for a role and industry that suited her interests more.

Why they stand out for me is:

  1. The 30-year-old programmer will hate me for the rest of his life and always bags me or my companies when given the chance (yep, I get told).
  2. The 45-year-old sales manager didn’t use any of my intellectual property or customer lists (unsurprising since I fired him for incompetence in the first place), but had nothing to say about us afterwards (nothing good or bad).
  3. The 20-year-old accounts clerk still refers business my way 10 years later (even to my new businesses!).

Firing well can even be part of your business model.

Consider this; virtually every ex-McKinsey consultant you meet was let go by the firm (I believe every two years it’s either up or out). However their ex-employees are known as Alumni and get access to firm resources and networks for the rest of their life. Surprise, surprise; a major source of new business for McKinsey & Co is ex-employees calling in their “alma mater”.

Since we are heading towards an almost recession, many Australians will have the experience of being let go for the first time – and it’s always personal for the person getting the bullet. So you have a choice.

Either act with integrity and think creatively when you terminate, which can lead to a free sales force, or expect the worst in others and generate “ambassadors of hate” when you fire them.

To be honest, I’m happy if you treat people like shit when you terminate them. Because if I ever end up employing them, they are guaranteed to spill their guts about the weaknesses of your business and your plans.

Have a think about that.



Brendan Lewis is a serial technology entrepreneur having founded : Ideas Lighting, Carradale Media, Edion, Verve IT, The Churchill Club, Flinders Pacific and L2i Technology Advisory. He has set up businesses for others in Romania, Indonesia and Vietnam. Qualified in IT and Accounting, he has also spent time running an Advertising agency and as a Cavalry Officer with the Australian Army Reserve.

To read more Brendan Lewis blogs, click here.


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