“The way you fire people

is the signal you send to those who stay”



Dismissal or redeployment due to organisational changes may be a necessity, you as a manager, would have to convey in your managerial job. Few of us can do this without doing harm, because we are either too tough or too considerate. When you have these types of one on one conversations, you are simultaneously speaking to your entire organization, because your rhetoric and the terms you set and the method you choose are going to get passed on. So it’s about being known for taking this kind of conversation in the best way, that ensures the right people will stay – because if you do it wrong, it’s usually the best ones you lose first…



Interviewing Ulrik Wilbek when he was the Danish National Handball chief coach, and did nothing but disappoint people who were fighting for the same position on the team, he stated: I have learned how to fire people quickly, and not get bogged down in a thousand explanations, because people who get that message don’t listen. 

And Ulrik is right, because we go into flight, fight or freeze mode when we feel threatened. A dismissal or demotion is perceived by most as a threat to position and worth. And then the listening flaps shut down and your message is not received heard and understood, but perhaps misinterpreted and misrepresented. Poison for employer branding.




Therefore, say very few words and wait for a reaction (or inquire into what it was your recipient heard you say,) before moving on to new information. Be concise and to the point and avoid giving lots of explanations, as this can cause confusion about what you mean. 

Rather, repeat the same words and phrases over and over again. Be firm and take responsibility. What we need to learn is how to make the receiver understand our message. We should not make the receiver agree or avoid difficult feelings- but understand.


There are three moves and one delivery you need to know:

1: What is the new that is happening? What are you offering going forward?


2: What should no longer be happening? What is final?


3: What story are you sending the person out the door with? Be aware that you now need to help the person go out into the world, and explain why this change has happened, and why it became him: so be honest, but talk up the new thing happening as much as you can- so the person leaves you with dignity not shame. (This post is about organisational change conversations only.)



The delivery of your message is just as important as the three moves.

In our culture, we are taught that we stand by our actions when we look the recipient in the eye, so these kinds of conversations usually take place across from each other at a desk- and then you can be sure the humiliation is total. So invite the person to a conversation that doesn’t require eye contact: take a walk side by side outside in fresh air- then the recipient can avoid you seeing his emotional reaction and maintain his dignity, and you’ll find it easier for your recipient to listen and understand what you’re saying. This type of conversation should last exactly as long as it takes for your recipient to understand your message. Rather, call for a follow-up conversation within the next few days and the detail what the new thing happening is. This gives your recipient a chance to heal, and gather the questions that weren’t asked in the first conversation.



Also you can make this type of conversation easier on yourself: If you constantly give your employees feedback on their goals, tasks and behavior, it won’t come as a shock the day they are fired, demoted or reassigned….