Donald Trump, the host of The Apprentice for 14 seasons whose claim to fame was his famous phrase ‘You’re Fired’, was himself fired from his show by NBC in 2015. Lately, Elon Musk, who draws a $56 billion package from Tesla has become the flag bearer of the hire/fire culture. Reports of another drama unfolding at Meta are trickling in, where 11000 employees have just been sacked. Closer home, 2500 staff members were laid off by Byju’s in Oct; on the other hand Byju’s could surprisingly fund the onboarding of Lionel Messi in early Nov. Vishal Garg, the CEO of Better.com had the audacity to fire 900 employees over a zoom call. Apart from this, there have been major retrenchments in 2022 at MFine, Cars24, Ola and Udaan.
‘You’re Fired’ is the most dreadful phrase in the nightmares of at least half of world’s workforce today.
Who should be held responsible when a company starts performing so poorly, that all of a sudden, thousands of employees have to be dismissed? If a wrong candidate is hired after several rounds of interviews, isn’t it the recruitment framework that should be held responsible for the same? What if the onboarding team fails to set the expectations right with the new recruit? What is periodic assessments of progress vis a vis targets aren’t being conducted? Isn’t it the top management’s job to preempt difficult times ahead and course correct at the right juncture? There was a time when we had leaders like President harry Truman of USA who had a sign on his table that read ‘The Buck Stops Here’. It’s difficult to find such leaders in today’s day and age.
Let us go back 70000 years when it was a jungle everywhere and danger lurked in every corner. During this phase, Homo Sapiens started evolving rapidly and started forming tribes. Ants and bees could work together in huge numbers but they could do so in in a very rigid manner and only with close relatives. Wolves and Chimpanzees cooperated far more flexibly but they could do so in smaller number of individuals that they knew intimately. Sapiens could cooperate in extremely flexible ways with countless number of strangers. They could protect each other from external danger. Hence, they rule the world. Human beings form a circle of safety within which the operate from the premise of trust and cooperation.
This is how our militaries have evolved. There is a circle of safety. The commander leads ie goes first and is the first to face the risks, to possibly sacrifice his life to save others in his team. This comrade who saves other’s lives by endangering his own, is decorated with a Vir Chakra. In most businesses however, we find that the scenario is antithetical. The person (read CEO) who sacrifices other people’s jobs to save his own interests, is rewarded with disproportionate bonuses. The difference is in the culture and value system. It’s the leader’s job to instill the right values for the team to thrive. Leadership is not a position or a rank, it’s a choice and a responsibility. Consider a family. The parents coach their children, provide them with opportunities to try and fail and discipline them when needed. If the child errs, do the parents fire him/her from the family? They mentor their child. Similarly for an organization to be a success, we need to expend our energies in creating a safety net for each other so we can successfully synergize our collective energies to combat an external threat. This is the secret of our evolution. As a matter of fact, rampant sacking of workforce instils fear in the minds of those who are left behind with the organization. These employees are always looking over their shoulders wondering when will they figure on the firing list. Productivity goes for a toss when people in the organization use one hand to save their skins and the other one to work.
A true leader understands that teams form the core of any organization and that teams are made of people and these people have emotions and feelings. He/She looks at an organization in terms of heart count rather than head count. If problems do arise, the first option is to let everyone suffer a little rather than a few people suffer most. In the worst-case scenario, if it becomes imperative to let go of some members, it is done in the most humane way possible with empathy and sensitivity.
Simon Sinek sums it aptly- Leadership is not about being in charge; it is about taking care of those in your charge.
This is just the beginning of recessionary times. Some organizations will slowdown, some will shut down. Lets hope this turmoil churns out benevolent leaders who nurture the human spirit rather than vanquish it.