Firing an employee is never fun and often not easy. As the CEO of the company, you have to carefully weigh up the performance of the employee, their effect on the company should they stay, and the ramifications–perceived or real–if you do fire them.
Then there’s the way you handle the firing.
Done carefully and with compassion and the employee leaves–though perhaps sad–with his head held high and with no ill intentions towards the CEO or the company. Do it wrong, and all hell can break loose.
AOL CEO Tim Armstrong chose the second option.
To recap, during a conference call with more than 1,000 AOL employees, Armstrong fired Abel Lenz for the absolutely heinous crime of…taking a photograph during the call.No, you eyes did not deceive you. You did read that right. Lenz was immediately fired, during the call, for taking a photo.
Of course, that was all leaked to the media and Armstrong has been on damage control duty ever since, including a public apology that in part reads:
I am accountable for the way I handled the situation, and at a human level it was unfair to Abel. I’ve communicated to him directly and apologized for the way the matter was handled at the meeting… On Friday I acted too quickly and I learned a tremendous lesson and I wanted you to hear that directly from me.
Armstrong also includes a lot of mitigating circumstances in his “apology” including the claim that Lenz had been previously asked not to document company meetings.
Still, the guy was publicly humiliated for doing something that millions of Instagram users do each day.
Armstrong may well have learned his lesson here, but it’s not likely one that was driven by human compassion. More likely, he saw the hit his and AOL’s reputation were taking and took swift action to nip it in the bud.
Time will tell if he was successful in preventing a reputation crisis from exploding and/or if he will do a better job of treating employees–even those he’s firing–with a little common decency.
What are your thoughts on how Armstrong handled this?