1) Being Let Go

It was a Monday afternoon. I had finished briefing the executive team about my department’s plan to convert our entire product line to new packaging. It was complicated, involving multiple suppliers, millions of dollars in inventory, and many members of my team. I had distilled it into a concise plan and felt I delivered that plan excellently.

The executives meeting continued, turning contentious as it transitioned to our struggling new product launch. We had recently run into some recent and significant product quality questions, and our new Quality Manager — a man I had hired three months before — was trying to help get production back up amongst one of our three supplier options. We had more supplier issues, but none that were particularly new or had been determined to be “deal-breakers” on a Quality, Marketing, or Finance basis.

The focus came back to my team. Ownership’s diction was clipped and aggressive. In hindsight this was probably the last, inescapable warning — the crack of a sniper’s rifle. I stayed collected and professional — Lent began five days ago and I had elected to dedicate the forty days to detachment. Calmly, I responded to each increasingly aggressive question as Ownership slowly ground the supply chain’s product-ready lead-time down. Seeing where this was headed, I gave them the fastest possible production date for our new product. The meeting ended shortly thereafter.

On our way down the stairs, the CEO casually asked if I could come meet with him in his office. I followed him. We rounded the corner and I saw a tightly smiling guest, papers on the desk, and chair open for me. My lizard brain processed the information far faster than my conscious mind did. I felt the pit in my stomach and my chest tighten before registering the flash of fear, frustration, and anger that this guest — and this meeting — roused in me.

As my CEO sat in front of me and professionally, if impassively, disengaged our professional futures, I fell into a hazy shock. It was hard to fully register what he was saying. My mind was over-clocking as it ran through the implications of this meeting, the absurdity of this man’s decision, the names of team members who might have or had to have known this was coming, the hours and energy I poured into this role, and a number of other thoughts. It was unfortunate that my CEO was so obtuse, so broad with his reason, and so brief with his dismissal. Despite my haze, I remember all the words that mattered: “we want someone with more experience in this new venture”. Guess who was the idiot that helped make ‘this new venture’ push possible? Irrelevant, except for in my resume revision.

The remaining hour went by in a preoccupied sort of resolve. I used to play sports, and I’m familiar with sucking it up and keeping my mouth shut when a penalty has been called. It felt kind of like that happened: the ref made a “bad call,” the penalty had to be served, but there wasn’t a darn thing I could do about it except roll with it. I had some good teammates who bid me farewell, helped me carry my things to my car, and passed on contact information for “tomorrow’s follow up”.

Critiques = Pro Tips

  • If you don’t have it handy, ask for paper and a pen immediately, and write down everything you can.
  • When you find yourself in front of the firing manager, messenger, whomever is responsible for your dismissal, ask questions and get details. You will never again have this kind of access to this person and their relative discomfort in “doing the deed” will hopefully lead them to be more straightforward with you about their reasoning. Go with easy, specific questions to start:
    - “What was the primary reason for your decision?”
    - “What did I do that brought you to or reinforced this decision?”
    - “What could I have done differently to keep this position?”

    Start with specifics and let the other person go into whatever detail they feel comfortable. If you have to and the person will give you more of their time, ask gently for more detail. This is not the time for arguing, though — you won’t be winning your job back and you probably wouldn’t want it back at this point. Just get all the feedback you can, write it down or make a mental note, and do it right in the moment.
  • People don’t usually read these kinds of things until after the fact. So if your chance for this feedback has passed, don’t beat yourself up. Don’t hesitate to reach back out to the person after the fact. Your chances of a response or as forthright a response are lower at this stage. But you never get what you don’t ask for.
  • Don’t count on “tomorrow’s follow up.” In most cases, this makes the offering person feel better. In the rest of cases, whatever surrounded or instigated your departure will consume enough of these people’s time that “later” stretches well past its usefulness. If you really want to know what they think or what they can offer, have them meet you for coffee or drinks after that day is over. *If you are feeling really emotional about this, opt for nonalcoholic beverages for a few days.