We live in a capitalist society that prioritizes collective efficiency (often, short term measurement of it) over individual wellbeing. One can argue endlessly where this unbridled capitalism stands on the scale of morality. But, the fact remains that it has survived its alternatives and we are living in a reality defined by it.
In this context, the biggest moral dilemma that a corporate entrepreneur faces is while deciding to lay off one or more of his or her colleagues. Every entrepreneur who has taken such decisions knows how traumatic they are – not just for the affected employee but also for the organization and the entrepreneur.
At times, these terminations may be prompted by macro economic trends that are beyond control of the entrepreneur. But often, the need to bid adieu to a team-member arises when his or her inefficiencies affect the overall team-performance negatively. I have seen that in such cases, the moral dilemma surrounding the firing decision is relatively low. In a way, doesn’t the inefficiencies of the fired team-member justify the action taken?
That is where the entrepreneur needs to step back a little and think: “Wasn’t it me (or my organization) who hired this individual at the first place”? When an entrepreneur hires an employee, he or she enters into a unwritten moral compact with the employee, in addition to a written formal offer or an employment agreement. Even though, the written agreement is an “employment at will” agreement, the unwritten one, in fact, states the following:
“We select you to be part of our team after careful scrutiny and would do the best you would expect from us, to make you a successful member of our team.”
When an entrepreneur comes to a stage where it seems imperative to ask someone to leave the team, he or she needs to revisit not only the obligations as per the written employment contract but also as per the unwritten compact. The review of moral obligations in the unwritten compact will (and should) raise at least 3 fundamental questions:
1. Who is accountable for the insufficient scrutiny at the time of recruitment?Did we define the job appropriately? Did we do a good job at testing the candidates for their fit regarding skills, culture, personal ambitions and organizational set up?
2. How much organizational energy was spent on onboarding and training? How well did we define the processes that a new employee will need to deal with? Did we impart enough training on and off the job so that the new employee will be adequately tooled to deliver expected performance?
3. Did we periodically and regularly inspect the employee’s output and offer required feedback for him or her to improve performance and course-correct wherever needed? Indeed, you cannot expect what you do not inspect. When you noticed that things aren’t going the right way, did you ask yourself as to why the anomalies were not noticed earlier? Were you sleeping at the wheel?
It is easy in a capitalist economy to fire an employee but if you do not address above issues, you may have caused considerable trauma – for the employee, the organization, and for yourself; but would not have addressed the decease that is at the root of the symptoms of organization’s inefficiencies. Addressing these issues positively, on the other hand, will remove the contradictions between morality and business. Sadly, this does not happen in most of the cases.