Almost every year, a senior person in one of my client companies gets fired. Sometimes I’m surprised to learn of the firing, but more often I spotted troubling behavior years before.
When the leaders or board directors must fire a senior person, the company suffers financially-often to the tune of a million dollars, but one recent fire cost the company fifty million. When these firings occur, investors and donors lose confidence, morale plummets, and the company’s reputation deteriorates.
The following list represents actual people and real cases-people who seemingly wanted to get fired. Here’s the advice they apparently followed:
- Do something unethical. This is by far the fastest and easiest way to get fired. Most companies have zero tolerance for putting one’s hand in the corporate cookie jar, but other opportunities for ethical violations exist too. Be creative.
- Look at pornography on your company computer. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in the office when you do this, although that’s preferable. The IT people at your company know how to access the websites you’ve visited.
- Have an affair, if possible with someone in your chain of command. But if you’re married and in a senior position in the company, it may not matter. Boards of directors really hate finding out that the CEO has been engaging in sexual misconduct.
- Don’t follow the rules. Why should you? They’re fine for less gifted people, but you know what rules are important and which aren’t. Pick and choose.
- Lie, especially to your boss. You’ll control situations better if you control the flow of information. You don’t have to lie all the time to get yourself fired. Often it only takes once, especially if the stakes are high.
- Have temper tantrums. One of these won’t get you fired, but if you do them often enough and if they’re bad enough, people will want to get rid of you. The best tantrums happen in front of the boss or key customers. The higher the stakes of the tantrum, the more likely the firing will happen immediately.
- Really mess something up. Usually one big or costly mistake won’t get you fired, so to ensure the outcome you want, make frequent mistakes, escalating when possible. In general, refuse to learn, but especially refuse to learn from mistakes.
- Be narcissistic. Narcissists often show up as answers to dreams only to become nightmares. You have to shorten the time between the two for a speedy dismissal. Let people know it’s all about you, and whatever you do, don’t show any empathy or consideration to others.
- Be an idiot with initiative. Nothing spells failure like rapid-fire stupid decision-making. Have a sense of urgency in your absurdity.
- Be so hard to get along with that you cause other people to leave the company. Sometimes it will only take the loss of one star to bring about your firing, but you’ll be more successful if you can prove that a number of people have left because of your obnoxious behavior.
Notice that this list does not mention nonperformance. Not being productive or meeting expectations may eventually get you fired, but this is a very inefficient methodology.
Most companies take about six months to remove non-producers, and many take longer than that. Plus, bosses too often assume they can do something to “fix” the problem. They will put you on a “get well” program, warn you that they will write you up, counsel you, write you up, and send you to classes. If you want to get fired, your goal should be to do it as quickly as possible so you can get the severance package sooner rather than later.
What can leaders do to prevent these ten? First, be crystal clear about the rules and the penalties for breaking them. Then, develop a “hot stove” approach. Make sure everyone understands that anyone touching the hot stove will get burned. The stove knows no favorites and burns everyone equally, no matter how productive, smart, or well-connected the person might be.
Finally, don’t promote anyone who has shown signs of breaking rules. Bad behaviors usually don’t get better with age, and the stakes get higher the higher the person rises in the organization.