Q: I have to fire my VP of sales. People love him but I need better results. Should I throw a goodbye party, or is that too painful and awkward?
There are few things more uncomfortable than the farewell party for someone who folks know — or suspect — isn’t leaving of their own volition. There’s the tepid, subtext-y toast (“Sandra worked here for a while and did some things”), the minefield of questions you can’t ask, and the do-they-know-or-not avoidance of eye contact with other attendees.
But letting a colleague slink out the back door without marking the transition is also awkward. It outs them as leaving involuntarily to those who may not know (which feels disrespectful), and elicits an icky feeling in other staff who wonder if they too will someday suffer the same humiliation.
So basically, you’re choosing between two awkward and uncomfortable options (sorry). Here are two questions to consider as you make your choice:
Sometimes, though, a farewell party could do damage. If everyone knows the person is leaving for bad behavior (fraud, sexual or racial harassment, abusive behavior), nix the party; that’s nothing to celebrate. If you (or they) will be unable to get through the event without snide and bitter comments, or if you really can’t think of anything both nice and true to say, stick with an email; credibility is also a core component of trust.
My last comment is about equity. These let’s-call-it-’retirement’ or congrats-on-unnamed-opportunity parties are often reserved for more senior folks. Front-line and junior staff are submitted to degrading “Mathias’ last day is today” emails. But your front-line staff deserve the same caring and respectful treatment as your VPs if you want to reap the full benefits of trust and psychological safety. So consider setting a standard process for how to treat departures regardless of title — you’ll only benefit.
Good luck with that toast…
Have you faced this situation from either side? What would you add to or change about our advice? Comment below.
Have a situation you’d like advice on? Message me or @Becca Karpinski on LinkedIn.
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