Almira Gulch. What a name. It's fraught with constipation and furrowed eye brows. And while it wasn't her idea to be named that, she found a way to fulfill the name's intent. Wait? You don't know who Almira Gulch is? Really? You might know her by her stage name - The Wicked Witch of the West. In The Wizard of Oz, Almira is the black and white version of her technicolor green self. And she delivers deliberate cruelty and fear across the spectrum of color. And while Dorothy ultimately destroys her (she liquidated her, according to the Wizard), there is a scene prior to the trip to Oz that is symbolic of HR.
Auntie Em, the perennial calling card for home, is face to face with Almira Gulch. Em has the perfect opportunity to tell Almira off. Ms. Gulch has come to take away Toto (not Toto!), and it's crushing to the young Dorothy. Em's maternal instinct kicks in and she's ready to take on this brash lizard of a woman. And what does she say? "Almira Gulch, just because you own half the county doesn't mean that you have the power to run the rest of us. For twenty-three years, I've been dying to tell you what I thought of you! And now... well, being a Christian woman, I can't say it!" NO!
Why didn't she say it? We're all there with her. We want Em to haul off and deck her, honestly, and instead she leads us up to the finish line and then falls down just prior. So frustrating. We tend to do the same in HR.
Think about terminations. There are some that bring great joy to our hearts, admit it. We're thrilled to see this slug of a human being exit our organization. This person has been the bane of our existence for too long. We've spent hours on this person and the situations created as a result. And while there was hopefully some good that came through it all (management training, refinement of the discipline process), it is still a huge sigh of relief that he/she is gone.
Far be it from me to get my Philly on and ask you to just tell the person off on his/her way out (If you need that help, though, my mom is available for a reasonable cost...she's fantastic at it). However, there is a truth to be shared. In terminations, for example, it is helpful to the person for us to share what he/she can take from the experience in prep for the next role. Frankly, we preach that formal reviews should contain nothing that hasn't already been shared with the employee. So, sitting with the person on the way out to remind him/her of the progression shouldn't be new news. What it is though is an honest recap of truth.
Haven't you hired someone and three months later think, "How did this person ever hold a job?" And yet, they've worked for ten years' previous. Likely, managers were just glad to see them go and didn't share much to help that person transition to the next role.
And don't wait for a termination. Give honest perspective throughout. Are you afraid of being sued? Seriously? Anyone can sue any company for any reason. Why fear what can happen no matter what? I've watched companies get served lawsuits that are baseless and untrue, and yet still have to settle. I don't think I am bitter in this, but rather, I take it as constructive freedom.
Please don't lose your basic HR communicative flow. Frame your words, be thoughtful and encourage dialogue. Ask perspective questions of the employee. Be knowledgeable of the situation and prepared to discuss. And tell the truth.
I would love to tell off a million people, give or take a thousand, but that's not ultimately for their benefit. However, don't swing the pendulum too far the other way. Don't live in fear and therefore not share enough. Give people constructive feedback in an honest framework. And if you need the release, go outside, behind the building and lose your mind. And then come in, visit security, watch the video footage and crack yourself up. You'll be back in the right frame of mind afterwards.