Thursday, March 12, 2009


Jack and Suzy Welch offer some excellent advice this week on how to build character.

Discussing the right and wrong way for a manager to fire an employee, they say: "...HR must insist that managers accept their duty, which is to be in on the one conversation at work that must be personal. Pink slips should be delivered face to face, eyeball to eyeball." Link here.

Hopefully, it is not the only conversation that is personal. But surely they are right to object to the practice of outsourcing the process. No company can pretend to care about its employees if it hires an outside consultant, an unknown, a cipher, to announce bad news.

As they say, it is a moral issue. You should do it because you have to do it. You should know that you have to do it. And it is the role of Human Resources to ensure that you do not shirk your duty.

The stakes are high, and are often overlooked. If you do not treat everyone with respect, coming in and going out, then they will be less likely to be motivated to get things done.

It does not feel intuitively obvious that a manager needs to be respected by people he is firing, but these people know other people. Word gets around. Besides, the manager knows it himself, and that will lower his self-respect.

I have known several people who are physically very strong, but who often shirk such unpleasant duties. They will rush into a fight in an alley, but cower in the corner when they are obliged to deliver bad news to a person's face.

Someone who refuses to to speak to deliver bad news to another person's face is diminishing himself, disrespecting the other person, and losing face.

His macho bravado merely masks the loss.

The same rule applies to break-ups. If you have been romantically involved with another person you should break up in person. Have the decency, the dignity, and the honor to face the person.

This will surely create an unpleasant moment, but you owe it to both of you to do the right thing.

Why? Because what goes around comes around. Karma will out. If you refuse to face your soon-to-be-ex lover, your character will likely abandon you when you need it... say, when you need to fire someone. Perhaps you can get away with breaking up via email or text message, but that does not mean that you should.

For the Welches firing someone is a moment of truth. By which the mean that it tells the truth about your character. But it also makes your character what it is.

You are not going to become a better person by getting in touch with your feelings or understanding why you avoid unpleasant confrontations. And you are surely not going to build your character by following your bliss.

You can better yourself by doing the right thing, especially when it means facing their pain when you have directly brought them the message that caused it.

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