#215 – Integrity Idea 045: Terminate with Gold

Integrity Ideas are specific actions a leader can consider during the Re-Align step of Integriosity®–actions that will begin to Re-Align the organization with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities.  You can find more Integrity Ideas at Integrous | Integrity Ideas (integriosity.com)

Integrity Ideas are practical actions toward implementing a bigger WHY for the organization.  We believe some are critical (and necessary) steps in the RENEW/RE-ALIGN/RE-IMAGINE/RESTORE process.  Others are just ideas to be considered if they feel like a good fit based on what leaders prayerfully discern is best for stewarding the organization toward its WHY.

“Terminate with Gold” falls into the “necessary” category.  When trying to lead with faithful integrity through business a better way toward Biblical flourishing, embodying the Golden Rule in every practice related to terminating the employment of another human being is not an option.

INTEGRITY IDEA: Terminate with Gold

When we say “Gold”, we are not talking about money. “Terminate with Gold” is about taking extra care in applying the Golden Rule when deciding whether to terminate, and in terminating, the employment of a human being.

The Golden Rule can be found in both the Old and New Testament:

• It is captured in Leviticus 19:18: You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

• It is most commonly quoted from Matthew 7:12: So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

Tim Keller has called it one of the “first order beliefs” that God has written on the heart of each person.  We just know it is the right thing to do.  In the words of C.S. Lewis:

Human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. . . .  The Golden Rule of the New Testament (Do as you would be done by) is a summing up of what every one, at bottom, had always known to be right.

“Terminate with Gold” recognizes that circumstances leading to the termination of an employee may involve a life situation challenging the individual and a failure at some level by the organization and that the termination will almost certainly be disruptive if not devastating to the life of the person and their family.

Adopting termination practices that embody the Golden Rule sends a message to employees that relationships, community and human dignity matter and that they are valued as creations in the image of God–not merely tools of production to be managed, manipulated and discarded in the pursuit of Profit as Purpose.

“Terminate with Gold” encourages a culture of compassion and empathy in which people listen, try to understand, and respond with Biblical EQ, giving each other the benefit of the doubt and believing that everyone is doing the best they can, given all the givens in a broken world. It also encourages a culture of authenticity in which people are honest about, and take responsibility for, their own mistakes.

Leading with faithful integrity through business a better way toward Biblical flourishing requires loving people where they are, helping them grow, and helping them find the best place for them to use their God-given gifts to glorify God by loving others through service–whether elsewhere in the organization or somewhere else.

This post was inspired by a video that went viral in January.  A young woman recorded her termination by Cloudfare.  It was so egregious that the CEO of Cloudfare is reported to have commented that it was “painful to watch”.  You can watch the video at the link below.

An Internet search of Cloudfare and Brittany Pietsch will yield dozens of articles in which the termination is analyzed by human resource (HR) professionals.  We just offer the following observations worth considering:

• The termination was communicated by two HR people unknown to the employee.  Her manager was not present.

• The reason given was underperformance, but the HR people couldn’t explain the underperformance.

• The employee was surprised she was being terminated and even more surprised to hear the reason was underperformance, communicating that she had been getting only positive feedback from her manager.

• No opportunity had been, or was being, provided for a performance issue to be rectified.

• The employee felt the HR people were being dishonest, using underperformance as an excuse for a reduction in workforce.

We think it is fair to assume that neither of these HR people would wish to be terminated in this fashion.

The Termination Decision

The reasons people are terminated from employment fall into just a few categories:

• The person’s is underperforming.

• The person violated an organizational policy or committed another offense.

• The organization is eliminating the person’s position or must reduce its workforce.

Just as a faithful leader would want someone to assume the best intentions in evaluating their performance, the Golden Rule calls for a faithful leader to assume the best intentions in employees.  It is the rare person who starts a job intending to underperform or violate a policy and get fired, just like it’s a pretty good bet that no homeless individual, addict, or criminal planned that destiny when they were eight years old.  Odds are, something happened.  We live in a broken world.

In her book Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution, Brene Brown digs into the idea that everyone is doing the best they can, no matter how bad we may think they are doing and how much better we believe they can do.  She links giving people the benefit of the doubt to generosity, which is one of the two key principles embedded in the word Integriosity.  She explains:

This doesn’t mean that we stop helping people set goals or that we stop expecting people to grow and change. It means that we stop respecting and evaluating people based on what we think they should accomplish, and start respecting them for who they are and holding them accountable for what they’re actually doing. It means that we stop loving people for who they could be and start loving them for who they are.

Only God knows all the circumstances, experiences and brokenness that contribute to a person’s behavior, but we believe leading with faithful integrity toward Biblical flourishing requires faithful leaders to try to understand what happened and whether the situation can be redeemed.

Performance Termination.  “Terminate with Gold” requires pausing to consider the circumstances surrounding a possible termination for performance.  It requires asking questions to try to understand.  For example:

• Is the person wrestling with a personal challenge such as a physical or mental illness?

• Is something happening in the person’s family such as a divorce, illness or problem with a child?

“Terminate with Gold” also calls for asking how the organization and its management may have contributed to the underperformance.

• Did they fail to screen the person adequately before hiring them to understand their skills?

• Did they put the person in a position that is not suited for their skills, setting them up for failure?

• Did they fail to train the person adequately for their position?

• Did they fail to provide feedback that would have helped the person improve their performance?

• Did they try to find a more suitable position for the person within the organization?

Leading with faithful integrity through business a better way toward Biblical flourishing requires faithful leaders to prayerfully consider all the circumstances before terminating a person for underperformance.

Violation Termination.  Terminating a person’s performance for violating an organizational policy or committing another offense presents a more difficult situation.  We covered this topic extensively in post #191 (Integrity Idea 032: Adopt a “77” Policy).

“Adopt a 77 Policy” is about adopting a policy of forgiveness and second chances in dealing with employee performance and problems. It recognizes not only that the God of the Bible is a God of forgiveness and second chances but also the Biblical command to forgive not 7 times but 77 times.  It is driven by the same Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities that drive “Terminate with Gold”.

Again, “Terminate with Gold” also calls for asking about circumstances in the person’s personal life that may have contributed to the behavior.  It also calls for askinghow the organization and its management may have contributed to the violation.  For example, did the organization’s “real culture” (post #146 – Integrity Idea 014: Understand Your Real Culture) encourage or even condone the violation?

A business as usual culture based on Profit as Purpose can send the message to employees that legal and ethical lines are impediments to be pushed to their limits.  They can feel pressure to “do whatever it takes”.

Workforce Reduction Termination.  It may be that the termination has little or nothing to do with the employee’s performance.  Terminations occur because a business or its industry is in decline or is experiencing a downturn.  Terminations also occur because managers over-hired in a boom to maximize short-term gain with little regard for the lives and families that would be devastated when the cycle turned and the boom ended.

In prior posts, we have included this quote from Jim Goodnight, founder of SAS Institute

The fact is that if our profits don’t grow and continue to grow every year so what? We have our comfort level of what our profits should be and we try to maintain about a 15% profit level. That is sufficient growth for us so we don’t have to be draconian and say “Oh my gosh, better go and lay off a 1000 people”. . . .  It makes me really mad when a CEO lays off thousands of workers, and is rewarded with the stock increasing.

We believe it should make any faithful leader “really mad”.  We believe termination for a workforce reduction requires the most generous application of “Terminate with Gold”.  It may be legal to terminate an “at will” employee without severance or assistance in finding a new position, but we do not believe it is consistent with the Golden Rule or leading with faithful integrity or a bigger WHY of Humanizing People, Beautifying the World and Glorifying God.

David Ulevitch, a professor at George Mason University, offers sound advice on how a leader should handle layoffs:

Your duty as a leader is to do everything in your power to give them as many resources as you can and offer them the most dignified exit possible. You as the CEO need to own the messaging around this. Employees joined your company because of your vision and you. And now you’ve failed them. You now need to be the one to own the communication around layoffs and take responsibility for what is happening. And ultimately, it will be your decisions that determine if employees are treated with dignity and compassion. This is where trust and confidence is built or broken. Do not make this about you. Do not, at any time, tell them how hard it is for you to give them this news, or how agonizing it was to make this plan. You still have a job, they do not. This is not hard for you, it’s just unpleasant. Not having a job is hard.

CONTINUUM: Practices

The Integriosity model organizes “heart change” along six Covert-Overt Continuums.  There is nothing magic about these categories, but we believe they are helpful in thinking about practical execution of a Re-Imagined Purpose, Re-Imagined Values and a Re-Imagined Culture.  The Continuums are Prayer, Proclamation, Policies, Practices, Products, People.

Each Continuum represents an area in which leaders can begin to think about, plan and institute Re-Alignment changes to the heart of the organization.

“Terminate with Gold” is on the Practices Continuum. It involves ensuring that the Golden Rule is embodied in practices regarding the decision to terminate an employee, the way in which a person is informed of their termination, and the support given to the person being terminated.

COVERT-OVERT RATING: Highly Covert

The Integriosity model breaks the Covert-Overt Continuums into six gradations–from Highly Covert to Highly Overt–that we believe are helpful in beginning to pray and think about what is most appropriate for an organization at a particular moment in time.

Most Integrity Ideas will have one place on the scale.  Some can vary depending on how they are implemented.  “Terminate with Gold” is Highly Covert (an action that would be taken by a secular company) because even a secular organization would benefit from ensuring that practices impacting the termination of an employee are thoughtful and compassionate.

“Terminate with Gold” can also be Overt (An overtly faith-based action known generally within the organization) if the leader chooses to explain the practices in terms of Biblical beliefs, principles or priorities, such as the Golden Rule, Imago Dei and the importance of authenticity.

STAKEHOLDERS SERVED: Employees

When we categorize faith-based actions, we also consider the stakeholders principally impacted by the action: Employees, Customers/Clients, Owners, Suppliers/Vendors, Community and Kingdom.

“Terminate with Gold” principally serves Employees, both those being terminated and those who are watching the organization’s termination practices.  It is aimed at loving and showing compassion to Employees when there has been a failure and a relationship is being broken.

The Golden Rule . . . is a summing up of what everyone, at bottom, had always known to be right. (C. S. Lewis)

IMPLEMENTATION

Implementation of “Terminate with Gold” requires an honest assessment of an organization’s policies and practices that involve or can contribute to a decision to terminate of the employment of a human and all those policies and practices that impact how a termination is carried out.

That assessment must be undertaken prayerfully by faithful leaders using the spotlight of the Golden Rule.  Is it how they would want to be treated?  Is it how they would want their son or daughter to be treated?

The policies and practices that involve or can contribute to the termination of the employment of a human are all the policies and practices impacting employees from hiring through the decision to terminate.  An honest assessment must ask questions such as these–always asking, “How can we do better?:

• Do we effectively screen potential employees to ensure they are a good fit for the organization’s culture and a good fit for the position to be filled?

• Do we periodically assess whether the skills of an employee seem to be a good fit for their position?

• What do we do to help an employee “succeed” in their job?  Do we provide the training needed for “success”?  Do we provide the feedback and tools needed for improvement?

• If someone is struggling in a position, do we try to identify another position that might be more suited to their gifts and give them a better chance of “success”?

• How do we, and how do we train our managers to, “listen to a life” (post #149 Integrity Idea 017: Listen to a Life) in order to get to know people on a human-to-human level?

• What is our “real culture,” and does it encourage, condone or even reward behavior contrary to our Re-Imagined Purpose, Re-Imagined Values and Re-Imagined Culture?

• What do we do to ensure that termination is never a surprise to a person?

• Do we have policies and practices in place to ensure that termination communications are honest about the reasons, including ways in which the organization has failed the employee?

• Before we make a decision to terminate a person’s employment for performance or a violation, do we have a process for understanding all the circumstances that may have led to the problem?

• Does the decision to terminate a person’s employment get reviewed at the appropriate level to ensure there are no opportunities for improvement, reassignment or forgiveness?

• Do the people communicating termination decisions have strong Biblical EQ (post #185 Integrity Idea 030: Encourage “Biblical EQ”)?

• Do our benefits for terminated employees align with a “Should We” rather than a “Could We” culture?  Do they reflect how we would like to be treated rather than what we can get away with?

• If we need to reduce costs in a downturn, have we considered alternatives that minimize employee terminations, such as salary reductions–starting at the top?

We believe every faithful leader “knows in their knower” that leading an organization with faithful integrity must include ensuring that the Golden Rule is part of the culture of the organization and a foundation to how people are treated from the day they apply for a job until the day they leave.  “Terminate with Gold” is one way to begin building upon that foundation–doing the right thing, in the right way, for the right reasons.

Others in the organization will certainly be watching–watching to see if the culture reflected in the organization’s mission statement and values is the culture reflected in how its leaders treat its people–their colleagues and friends.

PERSONAL NOTE (from PM): It was impossible for me to watch the Cloudfare video or write about this topic without thinking of Norm.  I mean Norm Peterson from the comedy series “Cheers“.  If you were a Cheers fan, you will likely remember the episode when Norm was given the job of being his company’s “corporate killer”–the person who told people they were being terminated.  Norm had a very interesting approach–one that certainly would not get Professor Ulevitch’s approval.  Watch Norm’s first “kill” in the video link below.

ESSENCE:  Integrity Ideas are specific actions a faithful leader can consider in leading faithfully through business a better way.

INTEGRITY IDEA: Terminate with Gold

COVERT-OVERT CONTINUUM (six Continuums for action):  Practices

COVERT-OVERT RATING (several levels from Highly Covert to Highly Overt): Highly Covert

STAKEHOLDERS SERVED: Employees

Most Integrity Ideas are practical actions toward implementing a bigger WHY for the organization.  When we say “Gold”, we are not talking about money. “Terminate with Gold” is about taking extra care in applying the Golden Rule when deciding whether to terminate, and in terminating, the employment of a human being.  It recognizes that circumstances leading to the termination of an employee may involve a life situation challenging the individual and a failure at some level by the organization and that the termination will almost certainly be disruptive if not devastating to the life of the person and their family.  Adopting termination practices that embody the Golden Rule sends a message to employees that relationships, community and human dignity matter and that they are valued as creations in the image of God–not merely tools of production to be managed, manipulated and discarded in the pursuit of Profit as Purpose.  “Terminate with Gold” encourages a culture of compassion and empathy in which people listen, try to understand, and respond with Biblical EQ, giving each other the benefit of the doubt and believing that everyone is doing the best they can, given all the givens in a broken world. It also encourages a culture of authenticity in which people are honest about, and take responsibility for, their own mistakes.  Leading with faithful integrity through business a better way toward Biblical flourishing requires loving people where they are, helping them grow, and helping them find the best place for them to use their God-given gifts to glorify God by loving others through service–whether elsewhere in the organization or somewhere else.

Viral Termination Video

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