Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Ten Of The Worst Firings I Remember

I wrote last week about how companies humiliate employees being let go.  It reminded me that I have been keeping a mental list of horror stories I have heard about how companies terminate employees,  I thought I would share the top ten list.  Some are far worse than others.  Some are almost unbelievable, but all of them have happened.  The couple of examples I used in last week's post really belong on this list, but they would be redundant. 

·        1) An American who was a worldwide account director and always traveling abroad was fired by telegram while he was in Warsaw, Poland.  He had to tell both his client and his agency why he couldn’t attend the scheduled meeting.

·        2)  An Assistant Account Executive was fired on his third day of work after leaving a secure job.  The agency had lost a major account on the day he started.  The deed was done by an unknown HR person. When his group head (who was not given the courtesy of being told) confronted the HR Director, she was told, “Why not?  We decided that last in first out.”  When the group supervisor responded that she had other account people in her group who deserved to be let go, the supervisor was told to mind her own business. The assistant account executive left the business. 

·      3)  A young Account Executive had the misfortune of coming in early. The chairman of the agency asked to see the results of a copy test which had come in the previous evening and was due to be presented to the client later that day.  The chairman did not like the scores and asked the account person to change them and make up new numbers.  The AE was taken aback and was not sure what to do; he decided to wait for his supervisor to come in; twenty minutes later, the chairman asked to see his revisions.  When the AE told the boss he was waiting for his supervisor, he was immediately let go for insubordination.

·        4) A very senior media executive was allowed to fly to Detroit on business.  Her company knew they were going to let her go.  After spending the night in a hotel, at 8:30am she was called by her boss and HR and terminated and told not to attend the meeting; it was a mass termination.

·       5) There was a president who was taken out to an elaborate dinner at The Four Seasons with his wife. The sumptuous meal was accompanied by an extraordinary and expensive wine.  The next morning he was fired and told that the dinner replaced severance (he had no contract).

·        6)  I know of at least one senior executive who was terminated by phone while on vacation with his family.

·       7) There was the son of a well-known ad agency president who was let go on his first day of work because the person who hired the son had no idea that the agency had a policy of not hiring the relatives of other agency principals.

          8) A senior vice president was fired while her children were in the office – remarkably, it was “bring your kids to work” day.

·        9)  There was a new, well known EVP who was short.  On his first day of work, he was confronted by another employee and asked how he felt about being the oldest person at the agency.  The new EVP replied, “Not nearly as bad as being the shortest.”  He was let go about twenty minutes later.

10) An Executive Vice President was presenting her first brand review to her new agency president. She ran the largest account at her agency, one of the biggest in the country.  He kept asking her what the point was of what she was saying.  Ten minutes into her presentation, he fired her telling her that she was boring him and her client. It ws clear he knew he was going to do this before she started.

Each of these terminations have one thing in common:  All the people who were let go were totally surprised.  No company should do that to an employee of any tenure – a day, a week or several years.
Years ago, when people were let go, they were routinely given use of an office for a period of time to make the transition more palatable.  Most people only used the office for a week or two.   It was a far nicer system until the lawyers took over and changed the system.  I actually previously wrote about courtesy to employees being terminated.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Getting Fired Badly Adds to The Indignity

Unfortunately, almost all executives, especially those in advertising and marketing, will be fired at least once in their career.  To some, it may become a badge of honor, but at the time it happens it is always awful.

(As a recruiter, I have to laugh – these days, no one gets fired.  They get laid off.  Same difference.)

No matter what you call it, it is a terrible experience. And the reasons don't matter - it doesn’t matter if its because your company lost an account, business is bad, there was a reorganization or even if it is for poor performance (which is all too often a lame excuse and has nothing to do with the truth).  It is a terrible blow to anyone’s ego and self-worth. Having to claim unemployment is humiliating for most people despite the fact that these days one can apply on-line.   

Many company’s policies regarding severance, unused vacation, health insurance only make matters worse and having to negotiate for these items only reinforces negative feelings. And terminations are often handled impersonally and with little or no compassion or regard to the employee.

Some people charged with handling terminations have become callous and jaded – they forget that they are dealing with people.  It is essential that they show empathy and compassion and sympathy. Every person who is terminated has his or her own set of problems.  Some are broke and will worry about paying bills; some have health issues with themselves or a family member and will be concerned about paying medical bills; others will have their own unique set of circumstances.  Even when there are mass layoffs, the person doing the deed needs to do it in a way that acknowledges the employees unique issues.

Frankly, when I was in advertising,  when employees who worked directly for me needed to be terminated, I insisted on doing it myself rather than allowing HR do it. (I would provide the reasons and do a short-form detail of arrangements – severance, etc.  Then I would send them to HR for more details.)  I always felt that if someone worked for me, the least I could do was to fire them myself.  I have always thought that while having HR do it was certainly easier on me, it was a cowardly thing to do.  I felt that I owed it to anyone who reported to me.

Over the years, I have heard too many stories of mass layoffs where the supervisor of the person being let go was never told that their subordinate was being terminated.  I find that dreadful.  And it leaves the supervisor feeling slighted as well.

I remember when Lintas lost Burger King and had to let go of dozens of people.  As I recall, they lost the account on a Monday and did the terminations on Wednesday, most employees being asked to leave the building immediately as if they had done something wrong.  As I remember it, the terminations were handled by HR and there was actually a line in front of the director’s office.  The people on the line knew what they were waiting for. How inhumane and impersonal.

The worse I ever heard was an 18 year tenured senior vice president at a top ten agency who had no warning and had been in an internal client meeting which lasted all day.  She was walking back to her office with her client.  When she arrived at her office, there was a stranger sitting at her desk.  He informed her (and her client) that he was there to escort her to HR and then would escort her out of the building.  He had already confiscated her computer and put (what he thought) were her possessions in boxes and they would be sent to her; he would not allow her to take her personal laptop.  It would be delivered withe her personal items,  She felt like she had committed a criminal act. A stranger actually fired her in front of her client.  How incredibly cruel.  Before leaving the building, she used her cell to call the president, and to his credit, he was appalled and stopped the humiliation and allowed her back to her office. Good thing she had her cell with her.

What an awful way to handle an eighteen year employee. 

This story points out is twofold.  The people in charge of termination have no real sense of their affect on the people who are being let go. And it also shows that management doesn't necessarily know how terminations are handled.  And it is just as important for people to go out with dignity as it is for them to come in with fanfare.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Adventures In Advertising: An Employee Gets Revenge

When I was an assistant account executive in my first job, I was working at the Richard K. Manoff agency.  Manoff was extremely successful.  He was an account guy who left Kenyon & Eckhardt with Welch’s and, as I recall, Bumble Bee Tuna.  (It became a large and successful agency and was purchased by McCann in the late eighties.).

I had been working on two small pieces of business during my first summer. I reported to two account supervisors.  In August, what was then Lehn & Fink gave the agency all its business – Lysol, Resolve and d-Con among the brands.  It was a huge win; as I recall, about $40 million. Those were the days when agencies hired about ten people per million in business, which meant that 350-400 people would be hired. With great apologies, I was told that because of the magnitude of the account, it was necessary to hire an account executive, who I would be reporting to.

As a result of the win, the agency took more space in the building.   I sat in a small inside office.  They hired a man named Bill Smith (obviously changed); he was to share my office until his was ready, probably two or three weeks.

On the day he started work, he was brought in by my former bosses to introduce us.  I stood up to shake his hand and, to everyone’s shock, with his new bosses standing there, he refused to shake my hand saying how much he resented sharing an office with me.  He also announced in front of them that everything I did would have to first be approved by him.  I was to submit any memos to him on a yellow pad, hand printed, not written in script, and he had to sign them or they could not be typed.  i was not allowed to go to a meeting without his permission. He also told me that his work took precedence over mine and that if our secretary was typing something of his, she could not answer my phone,  it was humiliating to say the least. My supervisors were as shocked as I was. They had hired a prick and a control freak.

There was no excuse for his behavior towards me.  it didnt take long to find out that everyone disliked him.

Suffice to say, it got worse.  He constantly belittled me and humiliated me.  He put me down in front of our clients and other Manoff employees. He did the same with others.

At Christmas time, I made a lunch date with my supervisors to tell them I could not work for this nasty man.  They told me that they hated him as well, but the client liked him and they couldn’t do anything about it just yet.  They were trying to find a new account for me, but advised that I should look for a job; they would be my references and explain to anyone who asked that I did a great job in difficult circumstances.

A month or so later, I had a new job.  Two years after, I ended up as a senior account executive at Kenyon & Eckhardt.  My career really took off and I was promoted multiple times in about two years, becoming their youngest senior vice president.

At some point, I was looking for an account supervisor and, while I was on the phone with the client, the HR Director brought me a résumé and asked if I could do an interview.  I was on the phone, not paying much attention, and said yes.  Of course the résumé belonged to Bill.

He was brought to my office.  When he went to shake hands with me, of course I refused. I did not stand up. He tried to apologize for his prior behavior, but I was able to look at him and say, and this is an exact quote (how could I ever forget?), “Bill Smith, I wouldn’t hire you if you were the last account supervisor on earth.  Now get out.” I turned my back to him and went back to work.
It was a wonderful moment.

I have no idea whatever happened to him, but the moral of this story is twofold.  First, there is no excuse to be mean or nasty.  Second, if one is mean or nasty, it will come around and bite you on the backside; what goes around comes around.

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