WASHINGTON, August 20, 2014 — Firing personnel is the hardest action any supervisor must take. The act of firing personnel in private industry is very different than it is in government.
In government, the merit system protects employees from being fired unless the justification for doing so is extremely persuasive. The documentation of how an employee performs must be detailed, extensive and behaviorally-based. Behaviorally-based documentation includes notes that describe examples of ineffective task performance. For example, if a supervisor made a note that Employee Joe was given an assignment, he turned it in past the assigned deadline and with numerous errors, this would exemplify behaviorally-based documentation because it describes the behavior that occurred.
If the supervisor documented, instead, that “Employee Joe never turns in assignments on time because he does not care about his work”, this would be a vague statement about task performance. In addition, the note contains subjectivity and judgment.
Behaviorally-based notes are objective and descriptive. The supervisor’s judgment that the behavior does not meet performance expectations comes after complete and accurate behaviorally-based documentation. Further, there must be sufficient examples to justify that the employee is not meeting performance expectations. The word “sufficient” is subjective. We will come back to this later in this discussion.
Next, Employee Joe must be given a reasonable opportunity to be told about his ineffective performance and to improve it. “Reasonable” in this case is also subjective.
If the supervisor goes through the effort of extensively documenting Employee Joe using accurate and complete behaviorally-based documentation, he reviews it with Joe, provides Joe with an opportunity to improve; but then Joe does not improve and the supervisor concludes Joe has not met the performance expectations specified, the supervisor may decide to fire Employee Joe.
Let us say that the supervisor fires Joe. In the government, Joe has many rights. He may appeal numerous times to different appeal bodies. In general, those appeal boards are pro-employee so they are likely to decide to give Joe his job back. It is in the appeals environment that words like “sufficient” as it relates to employee documentation, and “reasonable” as it relates to providing Joe with an opportunity to improve are ultimately judged. Appeal boards tend to find the documentation insufficient and the actions taken to help Joe improve less than reasonable. So, Joe gets his job back.
There are terrible examples of this in local and state governments as well. There are many examples where employees who commit criminal acts get their jobs back after an appeal. The most terrible aspect of winning an appeal is that once re-employed, those same employees repeat the offense that caused them to be fired. While this is not really surprising, what is shocking is that appeals boards do not protect the workforce as a whole; they protect the individual worker instead.
David Gregory, on the other hand, is−or was−an employee in the private sector. He does not have a place to appeal the decision that was made to let him go. This is not to say he met performance expectations, because his managers did not think he performed one aspect of his job effectively; namely, to raise the ratings of Meet the Press. His management had no obligation to justify their reasoning, and David did not have a place to state his case if he thought the decision was incorrect or unfair.
NBC has one major goal – to make a profit. They apparently did not think that David Gregory contributed successfully to increasing that profit and NBC believes they can find someone else who will. David Gregory has a television viewer following, and he seems like a nice guy to many of us who watch him. But we would not want to be in his shoes, because being fired is hard and regaining your reputation is harder, especially when the firing is so public.
NBC wants to more than survive – they want to thrive. These days, a business does not survive or thrive unless it makes the tough decisions about how to compete and make money. Firing David Gregory was likely a very hard decision. Even so, private industry does not need all the reasons the government needs in order to fire someone, and business entities generally do not need to defend their decision to do so except in the court of public opinion or in a case where they may have violated am employee’s civil rights when that employee was being fired. (That’s another article for another day).
What do you think about this contrast? Who has it right – the feds or private industry? Are both too extreme in their methods for firing an employee?
One fact we can probably agree on: the ultimate decision to fire someone should be tied to the bottom line. It is how and when we get to the point of letting someone go that remain under debate.
This week’s prescription: An employee must meet performance expectations in order to keep his or her job. To be fair, those expectations must be clear. Judgment will always come into play when a supervisor compares an employee’s performance to performance expectations. The ultimate decision to fire someone must be tied to the strategic goals of the organization, i.e., the bottom line.