Friday, December 10, 2010

Letting Somone Go

The moment you feel the need to tightly manage someone, you’ve probably made a hiring mistake. Jim Collins

Letting go of a team leader (ministry worker or staff member) is always a drag. If it’s for cause, they still have friends and supporters in the church who won’t like it. If it’s part of a financial cutback, there’s a sense that this isn’t fair, and it isn’t. But perhaps the toughest situation is the release of a well-loved but ineffective member of the team; the C players who will never do anything bad enough to be fired or good enough to be rehired.

In fact, it’s such a drag and so difficult that most churches don’t do it. Instead, they let inertia take over, with some complaining behind the scenes. It’s frustrating for all involved, but no one knows what to do.

It’s important to know that once the decision has been made to pull the plug and let someone go, you’re not out of the woods yet. The communication process afterwards can be risky. I’m not sure that it’s ever done well by anyone, at least in the sense of everyone being happy with the process and the final outcome. People will see things differently. But there are some things we can do to keep this tough and painful situation from unraveling into a full-scale relational disaster. Here’s what I’ve learned:

I. Accept the Fact That Not Everyone Will Agree

Too much effort and emotional energy is poured into endless conversations trying to make everyone “feel good” about being let go. It’s a waste of time. It will never happen. It reminds me of the girl who breaks off a dating relationship and says, “Let’s still be friends.” It might make HER feel good to say it. But everyone knows, friendship is not in the cards.

No matter how much lobbying you do, a lot of people will never agree with the decision to let someone go. The released staff member or church worker will always have friends and supporters who think that you didn’t give enough “second chances,” others who feel like the church shouldn’t be “run like a business,” and still others who think the person was doing “just fine.”

Endless brain debates (you know, the kind that you have in your head with someone who isn’t there – and you always win) coupled with hours of rehashing the situation with others staff members or congregants is like picking a scab. The wound never heals. It would all be nice if we could hold hands and sing “Kumbaya” at the end of the day. But it’s unlikely to happen when you’ve just told someone, “We are letting you go.”

II. Don’t Pump Sunshine into the Situation

One of the most common mistakes pastors and leadership teams make is to extravagantly praise someone who has just been let go, especially in a church wide letter or farewell event. While I understand the social pressure to do so, it’s a lot like the hollow praise you hear at a scoundrel’s funeral. The end result is a loss of credibility.

I learned this the hard way in the past when I heaped extravagant praises upon a worker who had to be removed for ineffectiveness, and who I was glad to see go. While I was simply trying to be kind, I came off as hypocritical, especially to all those who knew the whole truth.

I’ve since learned not to pump sunshine – that is, praising someone in public who I have criticism for in private. Credibility is too important to be squandered away in a feel-good meeting. I’d rather have people think I’m a bit of a cold fish than have them think I am a liar.

That doesn’t mean we have to be brutal. We should be kind. And if I can honestly find good things to praise, I will. But it is a big mistake to leave people wondering why we had to let someone go when they have been led to believe this person was an exceptional performer.

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