Firing people when you’re angry

by on November 1, 2010 · 6 Comments POSTED IN: HR Cafe
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I’ve been thinking about National Public Radio’s recent firing of Juan Williams for comments he made on Fox News about Muslims.

Many of us will disagree about how offensive his comments were and whether NPR should or shouldn’t have fired Williams. But I hope there’s one thing we CAN agree on: That NPR violated Rule #1 when it comes to terminations — never terminate an employee impulsively or in anger.

It sure looks like NPR did just that. CEO Vivian Shiller acted quickly. She fired Williams via a public announcement, never giving him the chance to explain himself. In doing so she ignited a firestorm of controversy that has deeply hurt her organization. (That’s the same mistake Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack made last summer when he fired Shirley Sherrod — before he’d listened to the full transcript of what Sherrod had actually said in her speech.)

What was the big rush?

There are only a few instances when it’s necessary to fire someone on the spot. If they’re threatening violence, sure. If they’re dealing drugs out of their desk. But in the vast majority of cases, you gain nothing by acting too quickly. And you stand to lose a lot.

If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, where you’re angry at an employee and feel an urgent need to make a powerful statement by firing the person on the spot — STOP! Go back to your office, close the door, take a deep breath, review your file on the person, talk to HR — and then calmly decide what’s the best course of action.

If Shiller had done that, she could have avoided a publicity nightmare. Perhaps she’d have suspended Williams. Or simply reduced his airtime and let his contract run out.

Cool heads make good decisions. Hot heads make bad ones.

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6 Comments on This Post

  1. Deborah
    November 1, 2010 - 5:30 pm

    This was the latest of several comments Mr. Williams had made that took him out of the realm of journalism and put him into the Fox News realm of “journaltary”, commentary disguised as journalism. Mr. Williams had been privately reprimanded, more than once, for what NPR considered behavior outside of their mandate to be impartial. AS Mr. Williams chose to continue to put his own opinions on the air, this last one regarding his “fear” of certain people was the last straw. I agree with you that it appears that Ms. Shiller appears to have fired in anger. However, listening to expanded reports the next day gives the entire story.

    • kory7119
      November 1, 2010 - 7:32 pm

      Keep in mind that he was being paid by Fox for commentary, which is exactly what he provided. Journalists are required to be fair and impartial, but not commentators. Perhaps the bigger questions is can a true “journalist” do both? Personally, I don’t think his comments were worthy of termination. I have heard many others express the same sentiment, although not in such a public forum.

  2. Deborah
    November 1, 2010 - 5:30 pm

    This was the latest of several comments Mr. Williams had made that took him out of the realm of journalism and put him into the Fox News realm of “journaltary”, commentary disguised as journalism. Mr. Williams had been privately reprimanded, more than once, for what NPR considered behavior outside of their mandate to be impartial. AS Mr. Williams chose to continue to put his own opinions on the air, this last one regarding his “fear” of certain people was the last straw. I agree with you that it appears that Ms. Shiller appears to have fired in anger. However, listening to expanded reports the next day gives the entire story.

    • kory7119
      November 1, 2010 - 7:32 pm

      Keep in mind that he was being paid by Fox for commentary, which is exactly what he provided. Journalists are required to be fair and impartial, but not commentators. Perhaps the bigger questions is can a true “journalist” do both? Personally, I don’t think his comments were worthy of termination. I have heard many others express the same sentiment, although not in such a public forum.

  3. Eshinn
    November 1, 2010 - 6:22 pm

    You are totally off on your evaluation of the situation. Juan Williams did not make an inflammatory comment about Muslims. He expressed his own feelings as to how he automatically reacts when he sees a person in Arab garb loading the same plane he is on. A feeling a lot of us that travel a lot share; it is not a rational reaction but an emotional reaction grounded on the reality of 9/11. Your comments about firing in anger are right on; your comments about Juan are off the wall.

  4. Eshinn
    November 1, 2010 - 6:22 pm

    You are totally off on your evaluation of the situation. Juan Williams did not make an inflammatory comment about Muslims. He expressed his own feelings as to how he automatically reacts when he sees a person in Arab garb loading the same plane he is on. A feeling a lot of us that travel a lot share; it is not a rational reaction but an emotional reaction grounded on the reality of 9/11. Your comments about firing in anger are right on; your comments about Juan are off the wall.

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