In another post I explained how many public sector organisations pull back from sacking people. “This is the public sector – we can’t sack people!”
Yet, the very people who you need to be moving on, can be the ones that are most difficult to remove.
If we move to the commercial world, we find ways to “move people on” even if these involve some degree of appropriate conversation, employment law, compromise or settlement agreement.
A culture of “moving people on”
In some organisations, the culture of people moving on is embedded in the language. When I was a young consultant at what was then Price Waterhouse, there were two phrases that were so common, they were referred to by their acronyms: ETL and ATL. ETL stood for Encouraged To Leave. It meant that you were actively being encouraged, helped or advised, to leave the organisation. In many cases this involved helping the consultant find employment with a client. ATL stood for Asked To Leave. It was a more speedy process: you were in effect being sacked. Of course in polite management consultancies, partnerships and accounting firms, people are not “Sacked. Being asked to leave was much more polite.
When the recession hit in the early 90s, Price Waterhouse decided they needed to lose a quarter of their consultancy staff. During that time the phases ELT and ATL developed all sorts of nuances: from those with nine months time off to find a new role, to those asked to leave that day within a redundancy regime.
Moving people on was common practice: part of the natural movement within the profession. In some consultancies, McKinsey for instance, their up or out promotion approach (Only so many junior consultants can progress to partner) is actually what creates their important alumni structure so famous for providing many of their opportunities. It is a part of the culture.
Back to the public sector
Of course the situation, and culture is entirely different in the public sector. Nevertheless, it is possible to “move people on”. So I was intrigued when in a conversation a Public Sector Chief Executive referred to having several ways in which to do this.
Now I am sure you can imagine that these would vary from being made redundant and using employment law, through to a more gentle “Encouraged to leave”.
However, I could also imagine that interpreting the phrase “Encouraged to Leave” inappropriately could be construed as moving towards a bullying behaviour or picking on someone to encourage them to leave. I must make it clear that this was not the way it was used within PW. On encouraged to leave started with an honest conversation and was a supportive approach: helping that consultant to find a new role and move on. I can imagine, though, how the phrase could be construed as encouraging in the sense of bullying. Of course this is unacceptable (unless you really want to end up in front of an employment tribunal).
The irony here is that bullying is precisely what good Chief Executives are trying to eliminate in their organisation. Bullying is one of the characteristics of poor values and behaviours that good Chief Executives recognise in those that they need to remove from their organisation, is the organisation is to move forward. So resorting to bullying as a way to remove them is just making things worse (and is also perpetrating the behaviours you do not want to exhibit).
If you are trying to turn around the culture and behaviours of the organisation, and this means you need to encourage someone to leave, please do so in a caring, helpful and constructive manner. Or simply make the case for getting rid of them, or their role, and ensure that it is clear to the rest of the organisation that the sort of behaviour they exhibited is not acceptable.