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Can You Hear Me Now? Yahoo Fires CEO by Phone


While few question the reasons behind Yahoo's firing this week of CEO Carol Bartz, the manner in which they did it is leaving many scratching their heads.

After being let go Tuesday, Bartz sent a two-sentence email to her employees filling them in on her fate, which included a specific mention that she was fired during a phone call with Yahoo's Chairman of the Board Roy Bostock.

The Washington Post has reported that both were traveling – making the phone firing a convenient option.

But whatever the reason, management experts say it wasn’t handled with much tact.

"We don't know the details, but I do think it is pretty low to fire someone over the phone," Dan Bobinski, director of the Center for Workplace Excellence, told BusinessNewsDaily.

A rise in virtual offices and mobile employees may eventually lead to more phone-based firings, but Bobinski said that day hasn’t arrived yet.

"We aren't ready for being so distant and detached," he said. "I have lost a lot of respect for Yahoo's board."

Without knowing how much back-and-forth negotiating had already taken place between Bartz and Yahoo, firing expert Don Paullin agreed the phone should never be used to terminate an employee.

"That is a horrible way to fire someone," Paullin, the president of Hiring Firing Experts, said. "That is absolutely not the way a normal firing should take place."

He recommends a six-stage process for managers in advance of termination; steps include clearly documenting an employee’s poor performance, discussing that performance with the employee, determining ways for the manager to help the employee improve and issuing formal reprimands and final warnings.

If the employee still hasn’t made the necessary improvements, Paullin said employers can make the decision to let someone go without fear of being sued by a disgruntled employee.

Bobinski agreed that an employee’s pre-firing performance should be well-documented by the employer and well-communicated to the employee through both verbal and written warnings .

"They should be told with each step that this is the progression toward a firing," Bobinski, the author of "Creating Passion-Driven Teams" (Career PR, 2009), said. "Then (the firing) shouldn't come as a great shock."

Paullin advises managers to do the termination in person with a witness present. He also says to keep it short by quickly explaining to the employee that they are being let go because their documented performance did not meet the company's standards.

"There is no wiggle room," Paullin said. "This isn’t a chance for them to defend their actions."

At that point, Paullin said the terminated employee should be escorted back to their desk to pack up their belongings, so they can leave as quickly as possible. Additionally, he recommends firings take place at the end of the day or on a Friday.

"Employees are going home at that time, so there is less of a disruption," Paullin said. "It also gives the (fired employee) a whole weekend to cool down."

As for the best place for a termination meeting, Paullin suggests a conference room rather than a manager’s office, which can be filled with important computer and employee files. If the fired employee gets emotional, the manager can leave the room without worrying the employee will see or take a valuable document.

Both Paullin and Bobinski agree managers need to take more responsibility for improving the performance of an employee, rather than taking the easy way out with a simple firing.

Managers should ask what they can do to help the employee improve, Bobinski said. He advises setting goals for the employee.

"Give the employee a tangible target they can measure up against," Bobinski said.

In the end, Paullin said it’s critical for employers leave the employee with some self-respect after the firing.

"You want to leave them with their dignity," Paullin said. "Then they are less likely to be combative or sue you."

Twitter handles: @DanBobinski, @donpaullin

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has nearly 15 years experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.