Leadership Strategy: Fire yourself

Fire yourself at work

I’ve been doing some writing and editing for this OPEN for Business blog recently, and today my friend Steve Dunlap fired off a new post about “firing yourself.” The concept is pretty basic to understand, but to summarize, every year — or hell, every quarter — get a bunch of people together and each one of you fires yourself. Talk about failures, talk about goals and targets you didn’t hit, and talk about why you should be removed. You don’t actually fire yourself — everyone still has a job at the end of the meeting — but it’s a rare foray into workplace transparency.

As Dunlap writes:

And what had been our reward? A strategy that could reasonably be described as “striving for less mediocrity through incremental improvement.” Unfortunately, this is the unspoken strategy of far too many organizations, dressed up in common platitudes of “taking it to the next level” and “raising our game.” This timidity is the origin of the corporate-eze and double speak with which we are all so familiar. We listen to our leaders give “all hands” updates and inspirational speeches riddled with clichés. All because leaders are afraid to be bold, to say what we mean, and to be what our people truly hunger for – someone thoughtful, dynamic and curious, but human and imperfect.

That couldn’t possibly be more true.

That’s exactly what most places do: they scream about “raising the game” and in reality, they’re just trying to not lose money. There are dozens of reasons this happens, and it varies by company/industry for sure, but here are a couple of big reasons I’d list off the top of my head:

  • Senior leaders only meet with each other, so then it seems like strategy/culture is pushed down (as opposed to developed together)
  • No one values soft skills like failure, transparency, relationship-building, and communication
  • They only value targets, metrics, deliverables, etc. — and ironically in many cases they don’t even understand the metrics
  • People are seen as meh, and products and processes are seen as the holy grails of everything
  • No one really stops and thinks before making decisions, choosing instead to rush headlong into it

A lot of it comes back to one central tenet: no one wants to be seen as incompetent, so people cling to (a) what they know and (b) their documented success areas like someone on the face of a steep cliff. That’s why most businesses could never do a “Fire Yourself” exercise.

Honestly, most teams I’ve ever been on? If they tried to do this, everyone would show up with a list of 19 targets they hit last quarter, even if the targets mean nothing. (“242 shares on my post about the future of local search!”)

High irony of most workplaces: people are so afraid to discuss failure that when failure actually happens, we instantly try to replace it with a lower-order success — and that benefits absolutely no one.


Ted Bauer

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