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You’re Fired!

Recalling those now famous words that Donald Trump utters at the end of each episode of the Apprentice, I allowed myself to give into my voyeuristic impulses. I also remembered a story about a mentor of mine. Albert Dorskind, former key executive at MCA/Universal during the tenure of Lew Wasserman. Creator of Universal’s Studio Tour — which has mushroomed into their Citywalk — said that one of the first things he did when MCA purchased Universal Studios was to say, “You’re fired,” to everyone who worked there.

Recalling those now famous words that Donald Trump utters at the end of each episode of the Apprentice, I allowed myself to give into my voyeuristic impulses. I also remembered a story about a mentor of mine. Albert Dorskind, former key executive at MCA/Universal during the tenure of Lew Wasserman. Creator of Universal’s Studio Tour — which has mushroomed into their Citywalk — said that one of the first things he did when MCA purchased Universal Studios was to say, “You’re fired,” to everyone who worked there.

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Prior to MCA’s purchase, Universal Studios had been in the motion picture business, where deadlines were not as critical — much less as frequent and tight — as they were in the television business. It became quickly apparent to Dorskind that the movie making culture was not “getting” the different requirements to compete in the television industry. There needed to a be a sea change.

After the firing, he then asked the former employees to reapply for their jobs. There was no prejudice taken towards anyone, since they were all in the same boat. This also gave management the opportunity to hire the wheat and leave the chaff behind. Some of the people made this easier by not reapplying because they knew inside themselves that they were not able to perform.

In today’s litigious climate with wrongful termination, workman’s comp suits, and other legal entanglements waiting in the wings to stall a company if not bring it to its knees, such actions could not be taken. However, the process could be used during performance reviews by thinking about whether you would rehire individuals — were you to fire them.

Such thinking will enable the performance reviewer to answer several important questions:

  • Would you rehire this person? If so why? If not, why not?
  • If you were to rehire them, in what capacity could they best serve your company?
  • Knowing what you know about them now, what would you say their greatest strengths are? Their greatest weaknesses?
  • How could you help them redesign their job to maximize their strengths? (Read Marcus Buckingham’s book Now, Discover Your Strengths, to understand the thinking behind this.)

Why go through this process? Wearing my other hat as a clinical psychiatrist, I remember a wise professor telling us that the time you know a long-term psychotherapy patient most objectively is the first time and the last time you see them. All the time in between, you are too subjectively involved. A similar thing can be said of employees. Your best chance for objectivity with them occurs when you hire them and when they leave. One psychological explanation for this is that objectivity requires a great deal of energy, and the vigilance required to continue it can be exhausting.

One of the pushes toward tangible, measurable results is to be able to maintain objectivity without having to experience the stress of confronting individuals on their performance. Let the results speak for themselves. Here, too, there is a parallel in medicine in the trend toward evidence-based medicine, in which medical decisions are based more on the results of double-blind experiments rather than the physician’s intuition. Although both are ideas whose times have come, they are facing resistance from the old guard and will probably only come into being when the next generation of workers and physicians, trained in these objective approaches, gradually fill the openings left when their older colleagues retire.

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A tool I have developed that further helps leaders evaluate people for a performance review — and lessen the stress of doing one — is what I call the Self-Other Inventory. It helps make explicit the realistic expectations you have about your people. Don’t confuse reasonable with realistic expectations. Reasonable makes sense; realistic is what is likely to happen. It’s reasonable to expect your employees to learn your new platform; it’s unrealistic to expect it of people who are nearly phobic about technical details.

More importantly, this vehicle becomes a way to discuss an employee’s performance and areas for improvement with them. You can use it with your employees and then discuss how you came to your observations; then ask them how they might see things differently. It also logically leads to areas they need to improve on (and areas you need to improve if you want to be more effective with then), as well as explanations in the event you need to terminate them. Below, the top row of the tool has been filled out as an example. (The criteria along the left side can be modified to whatever is pertinent to your company.)

SELF-OTHER INVENTORY What I can rely on other for What I can’t rely on other for What other can rely on me for What other can’t rely on me for
Competence To do their job without making significant errors. To get all the details correct. To tolerate it as long as it doesn’t adversely affect end result and/or the work of other people. To tolerate it, if it does begin to adversely impact the end result or someone else’s work.
Accountability
Initiative
Self-Reliance
Team Playing
Integrity
Attitude
Loyalty

Usable Insight: If you want to give your competition another way to beat you, hold on to people you should get rid of.

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