Momentum Podcast: 419

With Kindess In Your Voice

by Alex Charfen

Episode Description

When you employ people and create a team, eventually you are going to have issues. One of the toughest things to deal with as a leader is people issues, but sooner or later there will be a big problem and you are going to have to terminate someone. One of the biggest mistakes you can make as an employer is to speak negatively about past employees to your current team. The rest of your team is watching to see how you react to losing someone.

When you react and share the news to your current team with kindness, you make your team feel safe. You show that you care about them and that you cared for the person that you had to terminate. If you have to make a personal change, share it with your team with kindness in your voice. Be transparent with them and honor the absent.

Full Audio Transcript

It never changes. The most difficult issues I deal with as a CEO are people issues, team member issues, challenges with individuals. And in the past couple weeks, we've had a few. We actually had to let go of a very high level executive, however, I have learned over time that there's a way to let people go in your business where the rest of the team still stays engaged. I want to help you avoid the mistakes I've made throughout most of my career.

I'm Alex Charfen, and this is the Momentum Podcast made for empire builders, game changers, trailblazers, shot takers, record breakers, world makers, and creators of all kinds. Those among us who can't turn it off and don't know why anyone would want to. We challenge complacent, destroy apathy, and we are obsessed with creating momentum so we can roll over bureaucracy and make our greatest contribution.

Sure we pay attention to their rules, but only so that we can bend them, break them, then rewrite them among our own will. We don't accept our destiny, we define it. We don't understand defeat because you only lose if you stop and we don't know how. While the rest of the world strives for average and clings desperately to the status quo, we are the minority, the few who are willing to hallucinate there could be a better future. And instead of just daydreaming of what could be, we endure the vulnerability and exposure it takes to make it real. We are the evolutionary hunters. Clearly the most important people in the world because entrepreneurs are the only source of consistent, positive human evolution, and we always will be.

Throughout my career I have had hundreds of people working with me directly. It may be well over 1,000 people who have directly worked with me, or me and Cadey. When you add contractors it's probably two or three times that. One of the issues I have had throughout my career is people issues. You know, when you employ people, when you bring in team members, eventually you're going to have challenges, and eventually you have to make the difficult decision to terminate someone. To let them go. To no longer have them on your team. I was actually in that situation in the past week where we found somebody in a very high level position, violating our no gossip policy, and Cadey and I just, you know we have policies for a reason. We have policies because we know that something like a no gossip policy, where if you're talking to someone about a problem that can't help you with a solution, we know that that policy's in place because we've been exposed by it before.

We've had challenges there before, and so the policy's black and white. If it happens and you're in a leadership position, there's a zero tolerance policy. So we had to make the decision to let the person go. Here's the mistake that I've made in the past, especially with teams. In the past I've let someone go, and then I've either consciously or less unconsciously talked negatively about them in a huddle. Or I have said something like, "Hey we need to do this differently, not like such and such did it who's no longer with the company." I've actually been highly critical of people who have worked with us, and who have been terminated, and it is one of the biggest mistakes you can make as an employer. It's one of the biggest mistakes you can make as a leader. In fact, it doesn't matter how egregious the person's actions are. It doesn't matter what they did to get terminated from your company.

Here's what you have to understand, to the rest of the team, they're watching you to see how you react to losing someone. They're watching you to see how you feel about losing someone, and here's what I know every time I've ever had to terminate someone. I feel a massive sense of loss. In fact, when I was younger, that massive sense of loss translated to me talking negatively about the person. It translated to me criticizing the person when they were no longer in our business. It translated to me saying things like, "Hey don't do this this way like so and so used to do it." And making the entire situation more uncomfortable and more negative for everybody involved, especially my team. Here's the challenge, the members of your team are on your team and they are in the same situation the person you just terminated was.

You're in control. You are their leader. They're watching you because they're in the same situation of somebody who just had a major life change, and they're watching how you handle the termination. How you communicate it, how you talk about it, how you talk about the person that's gone, and here's the issue that we have as entrepreneurs. We feel like we need to let everyone on the team know how frustrated we are, and how irritated we are, and all the things that we're feeling about that person, and here's the fact: you're terminating them. Listen to the sound of that word. Terminate. Like the only other way we use it is like terminator when somebody's going to die. And so you are taking the most dramatic action you can take with them as a team member. You are severing the relationship. You're cutting it off. You're not letting it move forward anymore.

That is all your team needs to know how serious things are. When I was younger, I would reinforce how serious they are, and I would tell everybody on the team over and over again how frustrated I was with the person, and my discomfort with having to make this change, was expressed in ways that were absolutely not productive for the team, and really not how I felt. Yet here's how I really felt, and here's how I feel, when I end up having to terminate someone, I now have the conscious realization that when I was working with that person, when I hired that person, we created a future together. In my mind, I created a future. We're going to work together for a long time. We're going to create these massive outcomes. We're going to be in business together. We're going to grow together. We're going to be excited together.

You know, this is going to be great. That's what every one of us does. When we discover something, like when I discovered something like I did in the past couple weeks, and we have to terminate the relationship, there's this massive sense of loss. There's a sense of loss. There's a sense of betrayal. There's a sense of I don't feel good enough, like why would this person do this? Like why am I not important enough that they didn't follow our policies? There's a sense of me being an inadequate leader, and when I was younger, all of that translated to criticism of the person. Criticism of how they behaved, and that was a massive mistake. It was a mistake for me as a leader, because it wasn't their fault. I have ultimate responsibility. This is my company. I hired them. I managed them. I put them in the situation. I was the one who was tasked with keeping them in momentum, and if they weren't there, and there was a challenge that came up, then I need to take responsibility.

Even in this case, where somebody broke a no gossip policy, you know, I'm the leader. When I share with my team these days what's happened, in fact, we just recently had to do this. We got on a team meeting, a daily huddle, and I shared with the team that we had had a termination, and I let them know why. I let them know that, you know, I was disappointed, and I was upset by it. I really felt like there was a lot more there, and it was not an easy decision, and it was a decision that we didn't take lightly, but we have a policy, and so we made this decision. Justin Hester, who is a customer service person on my team whose now transitioning into our IT role, when I asked is there any questions or comments from anybody after I explained the termination he said, "Yeah, I just want to say that when you share with us this transparently, and you give us the details, and you do it with kindness in your voice, it really lets us know that you care about us as a team, and that you care about even the person who's leaving the company." That struck me because what a dynamic difference from when I was younger, and I would yell and scream, and get upset, and get frustrated with people, and have the entire team thinking, "Which one of us is next?" I know now, in retrospect, that most of the teams I ever had were always terrified because they were the next person that was going to get terminated because I didn't really explain it well, there wasn't clear policies in place, and people on my teams felt like they were just the next one to go.

When you're terminating someone, here's something I want you to know, it doesn't matter what you're terminating for. It doesn't matter how bad what they did is. It doesn't matter how challenging their behavior was, there are people on your team that are closer with them than with you. Accept it. Understand it. It doesn't matter if you terminate someone for something terrible. There are people on your team who are still going to stay friends with that person. It doesn't matter if someone damaged your company, or did something unethical, or lied to you, or whatever it was, team members are still going to have contact with that individual. So when you terminate someone, do so with kindness in your voice.

And when we terminate someone, and we share with our team what's happened, at the end of the discussion I always say to everyone, "All right, now we have a policy when we have a termination like this. I'm going to answer any questions any of you have. We can have an open discussion about it right now, but after this discussion, here's my request. I want us to honor the absent. This person's no longer with us. Speaking negatively about them, or in a challenging way about them doesn't help any of us. They, maybe it wasn't the right situation for us here, but they're going to find the right situation somewhere, and let's honor the absent and not make this a topic of gossip or conversation in our company, and if any of you have any questions that you want answered privately, please come to me."

When we have that discussion with our team, today it's completely different than it's ever been in the past. In fact, here's what is so interesting is that in the past when I would have a termination, I would know that everyone's productivity was going to go down, and that I was going to have to have individual conversations with people, and that my team was going to be unsettled, and frustrated, and sometimes even confused and irritated with me. Let's be honest, most people don't like any kind of change so that I knew that they were going to be put off, and I would have to get them reengaged. But today, when I'm open, and I'm honest, and I share with my team what's happened, and I do so with kindness in my voice, and I do so with the understanding that I'm experiencing a loss along with my team.

And the understanding that the emotions that I'm feeling are real, and that they should not be expressed to my team in a negative way, but they should be expressed in a way that they understand what's going on so they know what's happening, and they know what happened with the termination, and they don't feel like, "Who's next?" That phrase that Justin use, that you can share this with kindness in your voice, stuck with me because when you have a change on your team, if you can be transparent with your team, tell them what happened, explain the scenario and do so with kindness in your voice, you'll experience what I have. My team's actually pulled together after this. Every one of them has been way more productive. We're getting so much more done. The responsibilities for the team member that has left have been almost immediately absorbed by other people on my team, and we're getting even more done than we were prior.

The team's actually used it as something to rally around. When in the past, it would take me forever to get my team reengaged, so if you have a personnel change on your team, if you make the difficult decision to terminate someone, and by the way if it's ever an easy decision, you're doing it wrong. It's still one of the hardest decisions I make as a CEO. It's still the hardest meeting to step into as a CEO, and every time, I am physiologically, psychologically, chemically, mentally, just sideways going into a termination meeting. You know, that's how it should be. Changing the course of someone's career should not be easy for you. It should be a difficult event, and when I share it with my team in the level of transparency that I do today, it often helps us move forward and create even more momentum, where in the past it used to derail my team, derail our productivity, and put everyone into a place where they just weren't getting what they needed to get done.

So if you have to make a personnel change, share it with your team with kindness in your voice, be transparent with them, and then honor the absent. Don't talk about team members who have left. Don't reference them when you're asking other people to do things. Don't say things like, "Because so and so didn't do this, we need to do it now." Move forward from the event. Move forward from the person, stop talking about them, and show your team that they're important, not the person who's left, and everyone will move forward with you.

Building a team isn't easy. I've been doing it my whole career, and still because we deal with this random variable called people, we experience challenges. If you're a CEO whose building a team, whose created an opportunity and you want to have help in strategically planning so your team knows where you're going, communicating with your team so everyone's on board and moving forward, and building the infrastructure of people, process, and projects around you so that you can move forward as fast as possible, reach out to us. Go to Fill out our short application, and you'll end up on the phone with me or a member of my team.

Let us show you how we can help you, because when you have the right information, the right strategies, and you're part of a community where every CEO is doing the same thing, you can grow extraordinarily fast, and a lot of the insecurities you're feeling right now, will go away. When you're trying to do it on your own, it can feel like an echo chamber, and you never know if you're doing it right. So if you feel like you're leaving money on the table, you could be doing more with a bigger, a better team. You could be communicating better, and your team could be accomplishing more, go to Let's connect and help you become the CEO you've always known you should be.

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