Before I became an employee retention speaker and employee retention trainer, I spent over 25 years in the human resources profession. I was fortunate to have worked with some incredible human resource executives as mentors but also for mentors that were in operations. The different perspectives were invaluable in my growth as a leader. One particular operations leader I worked for taught me that all you had to do was “just fire one bad apple” and that others would get the message.
We were dealing with some horrible employee relations issues in a plant. Unfortunately, many of the issues were of management’s making. We had several “old school” supervisors that treated people with a lack of respect, never had a good word for any of their people and generally treated people like they were garbage. When I had a conversation with the general manager about these supervisors he said, “Just fire one bad apple and the others will get the message.” Being in HR, I was reluctant to just fire someone. So, the general manager agreed to do counseling, discipline etc. with the worst supervisor of the bunch even though the general manager told me that this particular supervisor would never change. He was right. The guy never changed and we fired him. Guess what, the rest of the supervisors got the message and started treating people the way they should be treated. And, our employee relations issues disappeared!
As an employee retention consultant, I often see organizations with horrible employee retention on a shift or in a particular department when the retention is good elsewhere in the organization. Nine times out of ten it is driven by a lousy supervisor who views people with disdain. To this day, I am reluctant to pre-judge because that’s simply not right and is unfair to the people involved. Unfortunately, my initial reaction is correct and counseling, discipline and termination often result.
When faced with this situation, the sad fact of the matter is that firing sometimes must occur. You have an obligation to the people the supervisor works for as well as to the others in the organization. When the firing takes place, it should be done rationally and with dignity but it should be done none-the-less. Once the firing occurs, you don’t advertise it or speak to others about the fact that this should send a message to everyone else. Let the firing speak for itself. I was reluctant to believe as an HR person that it would work. It did. If faced with this type of supervisor who is destroying employee retention, take my former boss’ suggestion and “just fire one bad apple and the rest will get the message.”