Like good and evil, hiring and firing are seen as opposites. Being hired is supposed to be a happy time, a celebration of a new start. Being fired is a difficult time, tinged with regret or, even worse, pain and anger. But does it have to be this way?
I am not suggesting hiring and firing can be made into complementary matters. They are not Castor and Pollux. But the way a business conducts its recruitment can inform and affect the consequence of sackings.
Hiring members of staff is one of the most important decisions a business makes. It is about more than grabbing the best and brightest individuals. The most important aspect of all is to build a team, and there is more to it than hiring qualified staff.
On the surface, having a group of talented, knowledgeable individuals with a hunger to learn and develop sounds wonderful. But such groups can bring their own challenges, such as rivalries and internal politics.
A business needs to look at the team as a whole and understand what it requires to function cohesively. This is just like a rugby team, which needs the right players in the right places, and not a prop playing at full-back.
This approach allows a firm to identify the characteristics required across the business, which will help it hire who it needs rather than just the next bright individual that comes in for an interview.
One of my colleagues calls the people we look for ‘good eggs’. It sounds simple, but it means the sort of person that will not only fit into the existing team, but bring something extra. That may be exceeding their targets or bringing humour and personality to the business.
Firing an employee is one of the toughest parts of my job. Putting sufficient effort into hiring should reduce the need for firing, but nobody gets it right all of the time, and sometimes people, or their performance, change.
All sorts of things can happen to cause such changes and, before making a final decision, we explore whether personal or medical issues may lie behind our perception of poor performance. It may be that a simple change to the way somebody works, or a different role, may improve things. But sometimes you have to accept the inevitable must be done.
The first thing to recognise is the risk of things becoming emotionally charged and, whatever else you do, remain calm and supportive, even when delivering bad news. It is not a reality TV show, and not about proving who wields the most power.
Firm but fair
When letting someone go, be direct and honest: do not try and dress things up. Not so long ago, direct meant finding a black bin liner on your desk and being escorted off the premises. That is not the right way to do it. It is about treating others with respect and understanding that it hurts. If you think it is tough being the one breaking the bad news, never lose sight of how it feels to be on the receiving end.
No matter how macho or unemotional someone may appear, it feels horrid. And if they feel upset already, imagine how they will feel having to tell family and friends.
How you conduct yourself during hiring and firing will define your business ethos, but it also defines you as a person. Grace and dignity cost nothing but are attributes every business and business person should aspire to.
John Morton is chief executive of European Wealth Group.