Tuesday, June 3, 2014

There Is No Shame In Being Let Go

There is a myth that the best people don't get let go. I would like to debunk that fallacy.

Once upon a time, businesses were nicer, smaller and private (non-public); the need for expediency and profits was less evident. That was especially true of ad agencies. When business turned bad or an account was lost or there was some other issue whereby people had to be let go, management and human resources sat together and made a plan. The best people were rotated, promoted or otherwise moved to keep them.  The under-performing and weakest employees were axed.

But that was long ago.  That era seemed to have come to an end in the 1980s.  Unfortunately,  there are people who still remember those days and still believe that the best people are kept and only the weak ones are on the street. 

It just isn’t true anymore and applies to all companies, not just ad agencies. (To prove my point, we recently got a job from a company and the person giving us the job order asked that we not send anyone out of work.)

A few years ago, a human resources director called me (yes, an actual call, not an email) and asked me to see a fabulous account supervisor who had been laid off because her account was lost.  I saw this person and, indeed, she was wonderful.  So much so that I called the HR person and asked why she had been let go.  Her response was that this person’s account had left the agency. I responded that surely she was better than many or most of the people at her level and she should have stayed.  The HR person agreed, but again responded that her account had left the agency.  I pressed because I couldn’t understand the logic and couldn’t understand why they didn’t do an evaluation at her level and keep her while letting go someone who was under-performing. The final response was stunning.  “That would be too much trouble and take too much time; we would have to evaluate everyone. It is easier to fire the entire account group.”


But that is the truth of business today.  Expedience takes precedence over people. Even the best, most productive and well-respected employees are vulnerable.  There is little loyalty for past performance. Good deeds are forgotten quickly.

I understand that in advertising, under the client/agency fee system, it is very difficult for agency management to go to a client who is paying a fee for staff and is happy with his or her people and tell them that someone on their account is being let go to make room for a better person.  That would be like admitting that the person servicing them had been less than stellar or had not been good. Clients don’t like that.  And clients don’t like change. It is easier to keep the status quo. This is true at all levels, but it is especially true of senior executives.

So companies do the easiest thing.  It requires little or no thought and terminating an entire group  can be done quickly. I am always surprised when I get a call from someone who I know is excellent and they tell me that they have been let go.  I stopped being an account guy years ago, but I never worried about being fired if my accounts left or their budgets were cut.

But business is different today.  And being good is not enough to keep one successfully employed.

There is no shame in being terminated. There is great shame if a hiring company will not see someone who has been cut back.


  1. I never trusted anyone who hasn't been fired at least once.

    1. John, I always say to people, "welcome to the business." Unfortunately, all too many people come to see me, tell me their story, but neglect to say they are out of work. I generally find out a few weeks later. My priority is to always give the benefit to someone who is not working.

  2. PS: On another topic, still thinking about the crazy EV story you shared. You gotta figure out a way to create a post around that.

  3. Handled creatively, getting fired allows people to experience relief, that they didn't want the job any more, and are in fact happy to move along and take on new challenges. Because most agencies in the throes of losing a big account are lousy places -- the exact attributes you cite are often being exposed.

  4. "the person giving us the job order asked that we not send anyone out of work"

    Wow. Hope that client isn't NYC-based, as such a request is potentially actionable under Title 8 of the City code. As you had noted, this type is discrimination is widespread across almost all industries, and several pundits have cited it as a prime reason for the stalled economic recovery. Just curious if you have a viewpoint on federal legislative efforts to prohibit this type of hiring discrimination. Thanks.

  5. Paul - you always get it right. Thanks for posting this!

  6. Paul - you always get it right. Thanks for posting this.

  7. Great read and exactly what happened to me recently. The entire team was cut regardless of work quality. It was extremely painful and we were the third round of cuts like that.

    1. So sorry. It doesn't have to be that way and it shouldn't be.

  8. Great post, Paul. And bravo for calling a spade a spade. Sadly, this is the current state of the business.


I would welcome your comments, suggestions or anything you would like to share with me or my readers.

Creative Commons License