7. Firing as relationship work

The word "firing" brings up so many feelings and so many fears. But firing does not have to be scary and it does not have to be hard.

The context makes all the difference. There is such a thing as...

A healthy firing.

And it's worlds apart from...

An embattled firing.

What makes a firing unhealthy?

You're trapped in the sacrificial operating system with all the co-dependency, resentment, bitterness, and high emotional drama which that system entails.

The firing becomes a personality struggle, a one-on-one power game or war of attrition where people get hurt.

The whole agency is in distress. There's turmoil for months, before, during, and after the firing.

If that's what a firing means, then it's no wonder that people are afraid of it and put off doing it until they are driven to desperation.

But I don't want EDs to be afraid of firing.

If you're afraid to fire someone, then you might try begging a bully who's acting out. You might try sweet talking someone who's dead set against you.You might try to nice this person into behaving better.

But those kinds of submissive strategies only reinforce bad behavior. It tells the person: I am a leader who's scared to set limits which means you can actually get away with pretty much anything.

I want EDs to be confident with firing people. I want them to have a high level of competence because of what's at stake with a firing. But at the same time..

I don't want them to ever have to do it.

This brings us back to the thing about context...

If you do rigorous hiring, giving yourself the best chance to get the right people in the first place, and

If you have continual, direct communication with staff about how they're doing, and

If you have a strong staff culture based on mission discipline,

Then the need for firing goes way down, sometimes all the way to zero.

And this healthy context is what can make a firing...

A matter of fact rather than a matter of distress.

If you're giving staff feedback all along the way, then if a firing becomes necessary, it won't be a surprise.

And if you have a strong culture, then a firing does not have to upset everyone, or drive people to taking sides, which increases the damage.

Another way to talk about the context is to say that both the sustaining and soaring operating systems can reduce the number of firings significantly and decrease the drama of firings whenever they are actually necessary.

And since everything on this site is designed to help you become a sustaining or a soaring leader, I could say that everything on this site is designed to help you reduce the need for firing.

On this particular page, though, I want to focus on two special things that I find most helpful in terms of making a firing healthy.

I'm going to start with three stories from EDs to illustrate those two things...

I told my development director the strengths I saw in her, and then I told her that her performance on this job was not a match for what we needed. I didn't use one judgmental phrase or word. My attitude was one of ease and sunshine. That's because I had gotten my anger and distress cleared out during our coaching session.

At the end, she got up and gave me a hug and said, "Maybe I'll write some grants for you on a volunteer basis."

I really did not want to let Darron go. Half his job he did great. He was tremendous with the kids and outreach, but he ignored his supervision duties. His staff felt neglected. And they were right, they were. So I told him that I was a fan of his, and gave him some ideas about sister agencies where I thought he'd do great. And I meant it.

I think he could feel my heart as I talked. I was so sad to lose him. But he was failing to do a very important part of his job. I had talked with him about it so many times and he made no changes at all. He really is a great guy, just not a match for this position. Maybe supervision is just not his thing. He was very upset, but at the end he gave me a big hug on his way out.

Earl was over at one of the agencies we collaborate with and got in a fight with the director there. It just killed me. I went out of my way to recruit him. Out on the street he was our best outreach worker ever. I told him how upset I was to be letting him go. And what I saw in him. And that I would do whatever I could to help him get a new job.

When he got up to go, this big hulk of a street-fighting guy had tears in his eyes and gave me a hug and at the door turned back and whispered, "Thank you."

Now you won't get hugs every time you fire someone, and you might not even want a hug. But this is the kind of magic that's possible, when...

You stand with the person, not against them.

You tell them they are not a match for the position, or the mission, or the team. You don't speak or even carry any judgment about them being a bad person.

So the two keys are...

1.  Vivid, palpable, unmistakable advocacy.
You're going to talk with this person about the facts of her job performance, you're going to address the problems with her performance forthrightly, but you'll do it in the context of advocacy.

You see this person's talents, strengths, and good heart, you really do, and you let her know it.

When I'm working with an ED, I sometimes talk about the Aunt Perspective. (Or Uncle Perspective.)

"Imagine you're this person's aunt. You know her, you love her, AND you see her screwing up her future by failing at her job. What would you say to her to get her attention? What do you want for her? How can you take a stand for her so maybe she can step up and make whatever is the best decision for herself?"

When an ED stands in this perspective, this decreases the adversarial feel of a firing and increases the feeling of advocacy. Even though the staff person might not accept your advocacy, still, in my experience, that's the very best place to stand for a firing conversation.

If, say, Tricia were in trouble on her job and I were her aunt, what would I want most?

I'd want her to make a decision. I'd want her to take responsibility for herself.

Either pull up her socks and start doing great work, or else leave and go find a job where she will thrive. I would not want her to stay and go down in flames.

And yet, of course, sometimes nieces and nephews have to live their own lives and learn their own lessons in their own time, and maybe the hard way.

What the advocacy approach gives you, though, is a way to stand outside any distress that might be going on. Which shifts the emotional energy of the conversation dramatically.

2.  No judgments. None at all.
Advocacy means you are standing with the staff person instead of against her, even though you are letting her go. And with this stance you are also creating a judgment-free zone.

Here's where the word "match" is a godsend.

In the upset of a typical firing, lots of hard words can get tossed around. Accusations, disparagements, put downs, innuendos. None of which make for a healthy conversation.

If, however, the ED takes the stand that the person's performance is just simply not a match for what's needed by the organization, the conversation has a different feel to it. It still might not feel good, but at least there is a good chance that it will not feel judgmental.

And judgment, because it's adversarial, even hostile, is what so often triggers the worst anger in a person being fired.

I would much rather say "this is not a match" than to indicate in anyway that this person is not a good person. For lots of reasons. First, I just believe in doing that.

Second, because this person might simply be in the wrong job and in her next job she'll do fine.

Third, maybe in other areas of her life she's a gem.

Fourth, maybe she just doesn't get what it takes to do a job responsibly and well. Maybe no one's ever taught her that. And maybe in two years she will get it and she will be a great employee somewhere else.

Even though I can't keep this person in this job, I do want her to succeed in her life. I want her to move forward. I want her to learn from this experience and keep growing.

I do not want this firing to take her down.

Now here's the most important thing about this advocacy approach...

This is not a gimmick. Please don't ever try to fake it.

I understand the pressure to grab hold of anything that might make firing easier especially when you're up against a tough situation. But...

Advocacy is not a how-to. It's a matter of heart.

If you can't find genuine appreciation for this person, then make this a Teflon firing. Just stick with the facts: "This is not working. You're not a match for us and maybe we're not a match for you." Get it over with quickly and cleanly and impersonally.

I've worked with a lot of people on mastering this advocacy approach. Some people pick it up immediately. Some people are so mad at the staff person that they can't feel any advocacy until they clear out their anger, but then they get with advocacy and love it. Others find it so counterintuitive that it takes them a long time to master it.


What matters most is authenticity.

Can you sincerely take a stand for this person's good heart and can you find in yourself good wishes for her future? If so, come from there. If not, please do not pretend, because insincerity is at least as triggering as judgment.

Next, I've got a series of conversations for you that show a problem with an employee and then four different possible endings, firing being the last one, because firing is, of course, our last choice not our first one.

Please remember as you read, that these dialogues are to illustrate core principles. Firing conversations will have a very different feel and flow depending on the particular personalities of the people involved. There are zillions of possibilities for the flavor of a firing, but the principles, I believe, are useful for anyone.


Setting the scene

Molly:  Help me out here.

Frank:  What do you mean?

Molly:  We've got a problem and it's really serious.

Frank:  What's that?

Molly:  I've gotten very upset calls from the EDs of three of our sister agencies about the testimony you gave at City Hall yesterday.

Frank:  Oh, that. Yes, I defended our position Those developers are assholes and the Supervisors who support them are assholes, too.

Molly:  And did you tell them that?

Frank:  Pretty much. But I didn't use the A-word.

Molly:  So help me understand your thinking.

Frank:  Well, this development proposal is really serious. It would be devastating for the community. We can't mess around here. We're under attack so we have to counterattack.

Molly:  What about the work our Message Team did? They put a lot of hours into our strategy for this issue. And they consulted in depth with our allies.

Frank:  Yes, they gave me my talking points and rehearsed with me. But in the moment, I decided I had to make an executive decision...


Ending #1 - Judgment

Molly:  ...Well, what makes you think you get to make an executive decision on your own on the spur of the moment without any authorization from anybody? You're not an executive. You're only an organizer. What were you thinking?

Frank:  I was thinking that I was the one who was there looking at those jerks, and someone had to slam them to teach them a lesson. I trust in my gut feelings. They never steer me wrong.

Molly:  They steered you wrong this time, Buster. You were totally out of line. Do you even remember the name of this organization? It's the Community Consensus Project. You've got a vastly over-inflated opinion of yourself.

Frank:  You didn't grow up in this community, so you don't really know what's going on. I get to do executive overrides whenever I decide because this is my community.

Molly:  Well, I live here now, so it's mine, too.

Frank:  Well, maybe you should move out.

Molly:  Maybe you should start looking for a new job.


That's how Molly might have responded if she had gotten triggered and turned loose with anger. But fortunately she's a master of the advocacy approach.

Ending #2 - Frank gets on the team

Frank:  ...in the moment I had to make an executive decision.

Molly:  One thing I want to tell you is I appreciate your honesty. I appreciate how forthright you are in answering my questions. You're not dodging or covering anything up.

Frank:  Oh, well. Thanks. Yes, directness is something I believe in.

Molly:  That's something I admire about you AND we can't ever have an incident like this again. I can't ever get calls like this again from our allies. Not ever. Really not ever.

Frank:  So what does that mean?

Molly:  It means let's talk this through. Are you willing to do that? Take a breath, get behind the scenes, really dig into this?

Frank:  Sure, I'm always willing to do that.

Molly:  That's another thing I appreciate about you. So what does it mean to you that our organization is called the Community Consensus Project?

Frank:  Actually, it rubs me the wrong way.

Molly:  Because...

Frank:  Because I'm a fighter, and consensus sounds so wimpy.

Molly:  Hmmm. Have you ever thought about going over and getting a job at Fight Back?

Frank:  Jeez no. Those people are scary.

Molly:  So you like the people here?

Frank:  Yes! Very much.

Molly:  And you like what we're doing?

Frank:  Absolutely, that's why I hounded you till you gave me the job.

Molly:  Tell me, do you see anything gutsy about consensus?

Frank:  Hmm. I never thought about it that way. Well, it takes a lot of patience. It means you have to keep gathering people in, over and over again. I've watched you do that. I know that's not easy.

Molly:  Do you see us as being wimps or do you see us as taking a stand?

Frank:  No, you definitely take a stand here. You do it without kicking butt, but you do it. Maybe I don't really understand what you're doing in those meetings.

Molly:  Here's a challenge for you. I really like the fight in you. I like your moxie. We need that. And I think if you decided to put your heart into learning consensus, the gutsy version, you could be masterful. You could become one of the best leaders in this community.

So the challenge is: Do you want to do that?

Now, there are three possible responses to a challenge: yes, no, or a counteroffer. Take a moment and think about what's deepest in your heart.

Frank:  I don't need to think about it. I want the yes. I never saw it that way. I know we're the ones who get things done. Fight Back does great demonstrations, but they're worthless when it comes to the negotiations where the real stuff happens. Yes, I'd like to be a negotiator, if it doesn't mean I have to be a wimp.

Molly:  Okay, you're on. We don't tolerate wimpy negotiators here. There's too much at stake. Let's put together a development plan for you.


Ending #3 - A friendly leave-taking

Molly:  ....What about going over and working at Fight Back? Think about it for a moment. Fight Back and us are like the odd couple. They do great demonstrations. And then when the Supervisors see us coming they're so glad it's not Fight Back that they welcome us in. Would Fight Back be more of a match for your spirit?

Frank:  It might be. I've known those guys from grade school on up. I do like the spirit there, the comradery, their kind of street gutsiness.

Molly:  I want you to be in a place that's really a match for you. You have so much to contribute to this community, it doesn't matter what organization you're working for.

Frank:  Okay, here's a plan. How about if I go over there this afternoon and catch Lefty and talk with him about this? Start feeling it out. Is that okay?

Molly:  Yes, and there's no rush. Take the time you need. I want this to work for you.

Frank:  Okay. Hmmm.

Molly:  What?

Frank:  Just had a couple ideas.

Molly:  That's another thing I appreciate about you: How you're always thinking and how quick you are.

Frank:  Well, I'm thinking if I joined up with Fight Back, I might start doing community trainings on how to take a stand. Too many groups around here are pretty wimpy. They could do a lot better.

Molly:  Cool. I agree with you that the community needs that. And it would make our allies stronger which would be great for our mission.

Frank:  And I think, having worked here and appreciating what you do, I could help turn Fight Back into a much better, more sophisticated ally.

Molly:  That would indeed be a blessing. So we've got a deal?

Frank:  Deal!


Ending #4 - A firing

Frank:  ....I had to make an executive decision.

Molly:  I know you to be a sincere person and I'm guessing that you took the action that in your heart you believed was best.

Frank:  Yes, that's really true. I know I wasn't following the game plan, but I'm an initiator. I have to be able to make decisions on my own whenever I feel the need to do that.

Molly:  I get that and it's not a match for us. Remember, we are the Community Consensus Project. Your desire to be independent of the team is the opposite of who we are and what we're about.

And here's the dilemma I'm seeing from all the conversations we've had about this in the past: You're a fighter and you have a particular way of fighting and that's really you and it's not something you're interested in changing. True? Not true?

Frank:  Hmmm. Yeh. I hadn't thought about it quite like that. But yes, this is really me. What you see is what you get. And what you're seeing is what you're going to get today, tomorrow, and the day after.

Molly:  So all I can see is that this is a mismatch. I'm thinking that you're not a match for the Consensus Project and we're not a match for you.

Frank:  Here's what I'm about. I want to engage in struggle with the leadership of this organization. I think it's time to change the name and change the mission. That's a stand I'm taking and I'll fight for it. Don't try to change my mind, it won't happen.

Molly:  Okay, that's very clear, and thank you for being clear, AND I'm deciding right now that you can't work here anymore. We need people who are a match for our mission. We can't be fighting internally while trying to negotiate consensus in the community. Our work is super challenging and we need a coherent team.

Frank:  Wow, that feels sad all of a sudden.

Molly:  For me, too. We need fighters in this community. We need you in this community. You've got so much to offer. I just can't see how you can make the difference you want to make through the Consensus Project. So do you want to talk about how you're going to leave?

Frank:  Is that really the only choice?

Molly:  The choices are either: 1) You get on our team and stay with us. But that means really getting on our team. Putting your heart into it. And at this point I'm not hearing that at all.

Or, 2) You choose to move on to a place that is a match for you.

Or, 3) I let you go.

It's not an option to stay here and fight with us and do your own thing. If you want to think about it overnight and tell me tomorrow if you'd like to resign, that's fine with me. But as far as you staying here and not being a match for us, that's over. That's not going to happen.

Frank:  Okay, I'll sleep on it.



Now let's take a look at another situation where the staff person keeps pushing back on the ED, but the ED keeps working for some kind of understanding in the process of doing the firing.

It's kind of a paradoxical thing to help someone understand, connect with you in that way, while you're letting them go. But it strikes me as a lovely kind of advocacy. A sweet bit of relationship work.

Samna:  Donnie, I asked to meet with you because three different staff have come to me to tell me that you've been saying things about Greta that really negative and hurtful. And not true. And you know that's not acceptable here.

Donnie:  I didn't mean anything by it. I just talk about people. That's something my family has always done. It's just my way.

Samna:  Whatever you do on your own time is up to you, but here in the office, or anywhere during work hours, negative gossiping is not okay. And we already talked about this two weeks ago when there was that incident about Millie.

Donnie:  Well, here's what I think. I think you've got it in for me, just because I come from a family that is not all proper and polite and everything.

Samna:  First, it doesn't have anything to do with polite. And second this is not personal. On a personal level I like you. That's one reason I hired you. And you do good work. I would hate to lose you and have to go find someone else.

But third, as I said in your job interview, and as I've talked about in staff meetings, we run on what we call mission discipline. And part of that discipline is: no negative gossip.

Donnie:  I don't like to do stuff because I have to. I don't think you should have these rules. I think you should just let us be ourselves. Do you have something against diversity?

Samna:  This is not a rule. It's something much bigger than that. It's a stand. It's our organizational way of life. It's a gift we give to each other because we care about each other. We want people to be able to play at the top of their game. We want people to be happy here.

We want a staff culture where people feel safe, appreciated, and challenged. Not attacked. Not undermined.

And those three staff who came to me...

Donnie:  Snitches...

Samna:  No, they were taking a stand. Remember how each of them told you to stop?

Donnie:  So?

Samna:  So that's what a culture is. A culture is not based on shoulds, but on a stand. We want a workplace where each of us can soar, where we can do great things together as a team.

I worked for a short time in a nonprofit where splits happened and staff battles sucked up all the air in the room and I hated going to work. So I got out of there as soon as I could.

Donnie:  See, that's what I'm saying. This is just something personal for you. You're just acting out your past pain and taking it out on me. You should be ashamed.

Samna:  Not only am I not ashamed, I'm so very proud of what we've created here. All of the staff together. This is something so core to who we are and so essential to our work that we will not be backed off from it. Not for anything. There's absolutely nothing you can say that will change that.

Donnie:  So, you don't believe in democracy? You don't believe in people having a voice?

Samna:  In this organization no one gets to vote for relational aggression. No one has the freedom to do negative gossip.

So no, there are things we are not at all democratic about, but we do live in a country that is a democracy, which means for anyone who finds our culture is not a match for what they want, they get to vote with their feet and go find a place where they can do whatever they want. There are lots of nonprofits that are like that.

You've seen how open and participatory we are in talking about strategies and programs. That's because we've got a top notch staff. Everyone brings so much to our work.

But we do not tolerate any behavior that makes this an unsafe, unhappy place to work.

Donnie:  I think you...

Samna:  No, wait. This conversation is heading down a dead end street. I don't do want to go there with you. I like you, I know you have a lot to give. What I'm hearing is that our culture is not a match for you and you're not a match for us. And if you're not happy here, why not go find a place where you will be happy and will thrive?

So let's do this. Here are your choices: 1) you can get on our team. But that means you really have to get on our team. We will need to see it and feel it. You can't just say you've had a change of heart. We need to see it so clearly that we are overwhelmingly convinced that you understand the culture here and you really, really want to be part of it.

Donnie:  But that's...

Samna:  No, please wait. I want to set up the next part of our conversation so we both have a basis for making a decision about your future here. So 2), you can resign and go find another job that you will like much better than this one.

And 3), I can make the decision and fire you.

Donnie:  Over a couple incidents of gossip. That's awfully extreme. Don't you think you're overreacting?

Samna:  What you're seeing right now is just how serious we are about defending our culture. Those three incidents are a big deal for us. It's a big deal that when those three staff asked you to stop, you didn't stop and they had to walk away from you. It's a big deal that you didn't change your behavior after the conversation we had two weeks ago.

And it's a big deal right here in this conversation that you're defending negative gossip and that you believe in the freedom to say anything you want, even if it hurts people's feelings.

Maybe you can tell from the tone I'm taking with you in this conversation how very serious I am, and this whole team is, about the culture we've created. It' took us a lot to get here, an we're not giving it up for anything. And I know you are a good person with a good heart, but I don't know what else to say to you.

Donnie:  Well, if I'm doing good work, if I'm meeting my job objectives, then you can't say anything more to me.

Samna:  But I am saying something more to you. Remember when I walked you through your job description line by line in your interview? I made a special point of the part that said that part of your job is to support the culture of the organization and to boost morale and that no relational aggression is tolerated.

We wrote that in to every job description because we feel so strongly in it.

Donnie:  I remember all that, but nobody's talked about it since, so I didn't think you really meant it. I thought it was just one of those nice things that organizations say.

Samna:  We don't have to talk about it much because we practice it. Haven't you seen that? Have you heard anyone else doing negative gossip or put downs?

Donnie:  Not really. Okay, I've been told, so let me get back to work now.

Samna:  Sorry, no, this has to be settled first.

Donnie:  It's such a small thing. The work is so much more important.

Samna:  I appreciate how dedicated you are to the work. But to us the team comes first and the work comes second. And that's both because we just simply like it that way, but also because we're doing so much better work now that we're a coherent, supportive team.

Donnie:  You guys are too intense.

Samna:  We're not too intense for us. We love our intensity about our mission discipline. But we might be too intense for you. And that doesn't mean that you're a bad person. Not at all. It just might mean that what you want is something different than what we stand for.

Donnie:  But..

Samna:  Help me out here. We're out of time for buts. I'm in a bit of a state of shock right now. I thought we were so clear in your interview about our culture. We spent twenty minutes out of the first hour talking with you about it. And you smiled and nodded and said you thought it was cool.

And maybe you were doing that just because you wanted the job. That's completely understandable. But we meant every word we said. Are you getting that now?

Donnie:  Yeh, I guess I am. But you guys are too much. You need to lighten up.

Samna:  About this, not a chance.

Donnie:  So then what?

Samna:  Help me out here. You've got a serious decision to make. Talk to me about what you're thinking. I don't know what else to say to you at this point, but I want you to make the decision that's best for you.

Donnie:  I think it's best if you let me stay and just leave me alone. I'll be the staff that marches to the beat of a different drummer.

Samna:  You know why we won't do that? Because if we let you stay and continue to do negative gossip, we're going to get to a place pretty quickly where we resent the hell out of you. And then you're going to resent the hell out of us right back. And believe it or not we like you. We're not going to let that happen. 

And part of our culture is that we don't do resentment.

See, this thing about being on the team is so serious, that if you're not, and so far in this conversation you're not, then there's no hope for you to have solid, warm, happy working relationships here. I can't see any kind of win for you.

Donnie:  At least I could keep getting a paycheck.

Samna:  You wouldn't, because if I don't let you go now, I'll let you go the very next time you do negative gossip. So let's make an exit plan for you.

Donnie:  You must really hate me.

Samna:  I don't. The staff doesn't. But we are not going to let things deteriorate to the point that we do hate having you here.

Donnie:  You can't compromise a little bit?

Samna:  Not on this. Not at all. This is our core. We treat each other with care and respect. Why would we ever compromise on that?

Donnie:  Because I'm a good worker.

Samna:  If all we looked at was your work, then yes, so far you're a good worker. But you wouldn't be for long. Because our work depends so much on working together. And if no one wants to talk with you, if no one trusts you, your work is going to go down hill fast. This is the kind of thing we said in your interview.

Was there something more we could have said to get that across?

Donnie:  No, I heard you. I was paying attention. I just didn't want to believe it.

Samna:  Thanks for being straightforward about that.

Donnie:  There's no way I can stay?

Samna:  Why would you want to stay? You believe what you believe and you want what you want. And given that, there's no future here for you.

Donnie:  Okay, well I've been looking at other jobs anyway.

Samna:  Really?

Donnie:  No, but I did think about it over the weekend.

Samna:  Well, maybe that's a sign. You know, there are lots of good people with good hearts who are just not a match for each other. The chemistry is just not right.

Donnie:  Yeh, I've been there all right. Like my last three boyfriends.

Samna:  I'm willing to make the decision for you. But think about what it would give you to make the decision for yourself. To claim a different future. To go find a place where you'll be in synch.

Donnie:  No, you decide. I don't want to fire myself. I don't know if there is any place where I'll fit in.

Samna:  Well, that makes me feel really sad.

Donnie:  Hmmm.

Samna:  Listen, I'll be rooting for you. I really will. I remember it took me a long time to find myself. And maybe that's what's going on for you. I don't know, but maybe you're just on that journey of finding yourself.

Donnie:  Maybe.

Samna:  Okay, I'm going to buzz Jelani and ask her to print out your final paycheck through the end of this week, and then I'm going to ask her to print one for two weeks of pay in appreciation for the work you've done.

And next I'm going to walk you through the office so you can collect your stuff and say goodbye to everyone.

Donnie:  Wow.

Samna:  Yeh. Wow.

Do you need a minute to collect your thoughts?

Donnie:  No, I'm ready.


I think perhaps the hardest firing to do is when the staff person is someone you really, really like and someone who puts his heart and soul into the work and always has a great attitude and where there's no question that he's on the team, but...

He's just not competent enough at the work.

In this kind of situation, it's so easy to delay the hard conversation, because you don't want to have to confront someone you care about so much. But the problem is that if you don't confront the situation, the relationship becomes a lie and resentment starts to set in and the relationship will eventually end up getting destroyed.

So if you care about someone, advocacy means telling the truth he needs to hear, even if you hate having to tell it. If you're giving someone something he needs, then you're his advocate.

In the following situation Justine is the ED and Mickey has been the development director for six months.

Justine:  Hi, Mickey. Today instead of doing our regular check in, we're going to have a very serious conversation.

Mickey:  Oh, I don't like the sound of that.

Justine:  Me, either. In fact, let me step back a moment before we dive in. I really don't want to have to have this conversation with you because I like you so much. Everyone here loves having you on the team. You know that don't you?

Mickey:  I feel a little shy to say it, but I do know that. Relationships are my strong suit.

Justine:  Yes, that's so true. And now let's get to the hard part. Six months ago when you asked if you could move from outreach coordinator to development director, we said yes, because you made a very convincing case that your relationship building talents which were unmistakable doing outreach would translate easily over to pursuing foundations and asking major donors for money.

Mickey:  Yes, but it's taking me a little longer than I expected to get my feet on the ground in this new job.

Justine:  That's what we need to talk about, because standing back and looking at the situation objectively it sure doesn't seem to be working. For example, you've missed two grant deadlines that were there on the grants calendar, and that's cost us an amount that's bigger than your salary.

Mickey:  Wow, I hadn't thought of it like that. But you know details are not my strong suit but I'm working on it.

Justine:  Well, here's the problem. Every single grant is absolutely crucial to us, especially in this economy. Those two grants were almost 100% assured for renewal, but now that money's gone, and I have no idea how to make it up.

Mickey:  I'm so sorry.

Justine:  I know you are and I don't want you to have to be sorry. You were such a success as outreach coordinator. You were soaring. I don't want you to have to carry the burden of making mistakes which have such big impact on the organization.

Mickey:  Yeh, it does feel bad. I mean really bad.

Justine:  So that's part one. And part two is that you have been doing great at networking with current donors and possible donors and I've gotten feedback that people really like you. Which is no surprise.

But you're not getting the checks.

Mickey:  Well, I'm building relationships for the future.

Justine:  Mickey, you're able to build a relationship in ten minutes because you're so personable. But we don't just need friends, we need donors. We need those checks.

We've been working on this thing about asking in our supervision sessions since the day you stepped into this job, and I haven't seen any sign of improvement. And you know what that says to me?

Mickey:  What?

Justine:  It says that this is not a matter of training, but of talent or interest or match. It says to me that asking is just not your thing. At least at this point in your life.

Mickey:  Well, I like to win people over. I don't like to push them into anything.

Justine:  Okay, some how that worked for you in outreach, but it's not working in fundraising. And I don't have any more tips or strategies for you. I don't know what else to say to you about asking.

Mickey:  Asking is the hardest part for me.

Justine:  Is there any part of asking that calls to you?

Mickey:  Not so much. I think of it as more something I have to push through.

Justine:  That must make it really hard to be the development director.

Mickey:  Yeh, some days it does.

Justine:  Okay, here's the crunch. I can't let you continue as development director. The organization simply can't afford it. And I can't return you to outreach, because your replacement is settled in and doing really well. So we've reach a dead end and it makes me really sad.

Mickey:  Wow, it's that serious? You're throwing me out?

Justine:  Out of the job yes. But we don't want you out of our lives. You decide how you feel about this, but me and the staff consider you to be a permanent part of our circle and our community. And in order for that to happen, it means we have to have a very clear, very forthright conversation right now, but what matters most is the relationship the staff and I have with you.

Mickey:  I appreciate that.

Justine:  Let's take a moment and look down the road into the future. Let's say I let you stay in the DD position. And let's say it's six months from now and you haven't been able to make up the money from the two lost grants and your fundraising is still not good. Then we'll be in a situation where we'll have to lay off someone from the staff. Maybe even two or three. Now what?

Mickey:  God, I would hate that. I see what you're saying. I don't know how I could live with myself if I lost jobs for the organization. And those staff laid off would probably hate me. Maybe everyone would be pissed at me.

Justine:  That's the kind of thing that could happen and you don't deserve that. You really don't. Not you.

Mickey:  Oh, jeez, I see that I have to go. I just can't let something like that happen. And truth be told, I do feel like I'm struggling and I don't see any imminent breakthrough on the horizon. Oh, I'm going to miss this place so much. I'm really going to hate to go.

Justine:  Yes, and we're going to hate it, too. But we care about you. And let's see how we can do this in the very best way. For starters, how about resigning instead of getting fired?

Mickey:  Yeh, that's a no-brainer. I'm resigning.

Justine:  And you took a chance and we took a chance, and there's no shame in that.

Mickey:  There's not? I feel terrible right now. Like I've let everyone down.

Justine:  No, there's no shame in this. Let's take a stand against shame. You were so sure you could do the DD thing and we believed you could, and part of life is taking risks like that and sometimes they don't work out not because you're not a good person, but because it's just not the right thing for you. It's not a match.

I want you to be proud of being bold enough to take the risk. And I want all of us to talk about this past six months in that way. You were brave. You tried something. It didn't work. Now you're going to try something else. You've got serious talents that you can use in another position and succeed.

Mickey:  That helps.

Justine:  And I want to offer you five sessions with an outplacement consultant I know. Her name is Carey and she's really good and she'll help you be aggressive about going after your next job.

Mickey:  Wow, I really appreciate that.

Justine:  And I'll write you a rave review for all the things I've seen you do well which are considerable, and especially for the kind of person you are—that I can rave about for days.

Mickey:  Thank you. It feels good to hear that.

Justine:  And something else.

Mickey:  What?

Justine:  There's one thing I regret. I wish when you had taken the DD position we had talked at greater length what would happen if it didn't work out. We were so jazzed that I think we went through that part of it much too quickly. What do you think?

Mickey:  Yeh, I had stars in my eyes. It would have helped if you had kind of shaken me by the shoulders and said, "What if this doesn't work?" Or if I had looked into the mirror and had that conversation with myself.

Justine:  So that's something I feel sad about. But sadness and shame are really different things. Do you know what I mean?

Mickey:  Kind of.

Justine:  You had your heart set on being DD, and if it had worked, think how proud you would have been and how that would have changed your life.

Mickey:  That's true. We need more and better fundraisers in the sector and I wanted to be one of them. I wanted to make that kind of contribution.

Justine:  See, that's what I mean. There's your good heart. Your intent to contribute is something to be proud of and celebrate. But then it didn't work the way you wanted it to, and that's something to feel sad about.

Mickey:  Thanks, that distinction really helps. I've got so many feelings swirling around in me right now that I'm having a little trouble keeping the shame out of the picture.

Justine:  So what do you need right now? Do you need to sleep on this? Do you want to brainstorm ideas for your job search? You've got Carey, but I'd also be willing to brainstorm with you. I know you so well and I'm such an advocate for you that I'd be glad to help.

Mickey:  I'll write out my resignation letter right now. Then I think I need to take a little time for myself and sleep on this. Tomorrow and through the end of the week I'll put all my files in order and make sure the database is up to date and get any grants submitted where the deadline is coming up soon, and we can make Friday my last day.

And yes, I would like you to brainstorm with me. So can we set a lunch for next week sometime? My treat.


If you're going to do a firing, please take the time to prepare yourself personally. You deserve that.

You deserve to get what you need so you can do the best firing possible.

Yes, you've got tons of other work that you're trying to get to, and by the time you've gotten to the place of firing this person you might feel like he's taken up way too much of your time already and you just want this to be over with and have him gone.

But please don't rush this last step. Call on one last drop of patience. I've seen supervisors push through a firing too quickly and then it backfires on them because the conversation blows up and then they're into extra innings. I urge you, if you're going to do a firing...

Do a really excellent firing so when it's done, it's really done.

Apart from some few exceptions a firing means that you're ending a relationship, but...

Ending a relationship is still relationship work.

And whenever you're doing relationship work, especially the most challenging kind, don't you want to be at your best?


© 2008  Rich Snowdon