ScrumMasters are accountable for increasing visibility and tackling organizational obstacles, while creating an Agile environment in which team members thrive. Quiet firing may represent the mother of all organizational impediments.
Author: Giora Morein, ThinkLouder, https://thinklouder.com/
Quiet firing is when employers deliberately create an inhospitable working environment so that underperforming employees will decide to quit. While quiet quitting gained new momentum during the pandemic, quiet firing was still there, in stealth mode, slowly but surely pushing employees towards the door and showing them the way out.
What is Quiet Firing?
Quiet firing tactics often involve making a person’s job “unpleasant and unrewarding in order to get them to leave on his or her own terms,” according to Leslie Tarnacki, senior vice president of human resources at Workforce Software. The tactics may vary (from minimal pay raises, responsibilities being delegated to others, stagnant work roles, negative feedback, and more) but the result is the same. People feel demotivated, excluded, discriminated against, overlooked, and side-lined.
Here’s the thing: quiet firing can’t stay under the radar for long. It points to organizational and managerial failures that ultimately lead to a toxic culture – and may result in quiet quitting.
At the organizational level, there’s an attempt to edge people out – to make their working lives so uncomfortable that they leave of their own accord. It could be about poor performance. It could be about cash flow issues and inability to fork out costly retrenchment packages. It could be about the company’s image.
On a managerial level, it’s often about wanting to avoid confrontation or the chance of fallout, such as litigation. When a manager tries to edge people out instead of firing them outright, it’s often about saving face. It’s a failure to admit that this person turned out to be a bad fit and they made a bad call. Keeping poor performers on and hoping they’ll decide to leave shows a dramatic failure of management.
There is something rotten in the state of [business]
With apologies to Shakespeare, quiet firing creates a polluted environment where instead of firing people who aren’t a good fit or failing to perform, we keep them around. It’s a poor decision that has an impact on culture as well as Scrum team morale.
Inevitably, this has a negative effect on individual team members and the team as a whole. They may be having to cover for the other person, take up the slack, or fix their mistakes. Carrying dead weight on your team is not only expensive, but it also creates unnecessary stress.
Ultimately, it points to a toxic culture and an organization that clearly is not aligned with the Agile and Scrum values. At the heart of Agile, lies four values of the Agile Manifesto, the first being, “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.” It’s a people-first manifesto that makes it clear that it isn’t product delivery, deadlines, or profits first. It means we value people first – the people who put the bricks together that build our business.
People in glass houses
Treating people like they don’t matter is going to backfire in one way or another. One only has to visit sites such as Glassdoor.com which provides a platform for disgruntled employees to have their say. Glassdoor proclaims loudly and clearly that, “You deserve a job that loves you back.” Being the target of a quiet firing campaign is the very definition of being in a job that doesn’t love you back – and to carry on the analogy, has irreconcilable differences and wants a divorce.
Only thanks to whistle-blowing sites, your “dirty washing” is out there for prospective employees to see. If you haven’t treated your employees (current or former) with respect, it’s going to come out. And then the high-quality employees you want aren’t going to want to work with you.
What has respect got to do with it?
While all the Scrum values (focus, openness, commitment, courage, and respect) contribute to a healthy organization, the value of respect plays a key role in navigating troubled waters effectively. If respect lies at the foundation of all we do, then treating our employees with respectfully even when we’re faced with having to fire them, means that the liability risk is going to be significantly smaller.
It means looking into why they aren’t performing, and how you, as a team leader, can help. It’s not uncommon for inexperienced or immature frontline managers tasked with helping team members improve are unsuccessful in their efforts to motivate or coach people on their teams. Instead of having an open and honest conversation, they avoid confrontation and string them along.
It’s possible that you’ve got a good reason for keeping skilled people on board. You want to find ways to engage them and extract their talent. Maybe you kept people around a lot longer than you should have because you were overly optimistic about where the business was headed. Finding the right people is one of the biggest challenges an organization faces. It takes a long time to hire them and often, too long to fire them.
A team is greater than the sum of its parts
Often, we think of our team as a collection of individuals and assemble teams put together based on the talents or skills of individual members. However, they aren’t going to be working in isolation. That’s why many organizations involve team members in the hiring process because the new hire needs to fit into the existing team dynamics. It needs to be a good fit, not only in terms of capabilities, but also in terms of values. It’s about structuring the best possible team who will work well together.
In good times, the impact of bad decisions is relatively low. But when things go south, the business isn’t growing and profits are down, the decision to let someone coast along without making the needed contribution has a much bigger impact.
Keeping someone on when the role isn’t right for them isn’t fair to them, to their peers, or the organization as a whole. If it’s clear that a change is needed, then decisiveness, timeliness and respect is key. It could mean moving someone to another role, team, or even department. However, it should be in everyone’s best interest and not just a tactic to take the problem off your plate and place it elsewhere for someone else to deal with.
If it’s not the right opportunity, you’re all better served by letting someone go. It’s how you do it that makes all the difference. That could mean helping them find a position that will be good for them and assisting them in having a softer landing. It means providing guidance and support because you have their best interests at heart. It means leading with kindness.
When you put Agile and Scrum values at the forefront, quiet firing cannot form part of your business ethos. It means having the courage to make the hard decisions, holding open and honest conversations, and no matter how you choose to move forward, always putting your people first and treating them with respect.
About the Author
Giora Morein has over 15 years of Agile coaching and executive consulting experience. He is a certified Scrum Trainer, Precision Agile Coach, and the founder of ThinkLouder. Previously, he co-founded BigVisible, a pioneering brand in Agile Coaching, Training and Consulting. BigVisible grew to be one of the largest niche Agile Consultancies in the world leading to their acquisition in late 2014. He is a noted speaker at key global industry events and a regular contributor to broadcast and print media.