You’re Fired – Now Go Out and Make That Big Decision for Us

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Jun 25, 2010

For those of you who don’t know, I am a big sports fan. And even more so, I am a big fan of the National Basketball Association and the Portland Trail Blazers. That’s been my team from the beginning and there has been a lot of joy and frustration watching them over the years.

With my background in HR though, the personnel moves of the NBA fascinate me quite a bit as well. It’s the game within the game. “The secret of basketball” (if you believe Isaiah Thomas) isn’t putting a ball through the hoop, but the sum of all parts working together in unison. It’s talent management at its highest stakes.

So when things like the annual NBA draft happens (like it did last night), my HR nerd and basketball nerd sides come together for some sort of strange, captivating four hours of watching tall guys in suits shake hands with the commissioner. And yet, the most captivating story wasn’t the University of Kentucky’s John Wall being taken as the number one pick, it was the front office mess that hit the Portland Trail Blazers a mere hour before the draft.

Portland’s general manager, Kevin Pritchard, was told that draft night would be his final day as Portland’s general manager. Now, a general manager is generally in charge of player evaluation and acquisition. In most organizations (probably like yours), it’s not a single person making that call, but someone is the point man. That was Pritchard.

Let’s also consider that the NBA draft is where the Blazers have obtained all but three of their current 15 man roster. So telling your point man, on the biggest day of his year, that draft day was going to be his last day was a bizarre spectacle.

While the basketball side of me was bewildered by the whole decision, the HR side of me was evaluating the move. I couldn’t imagine doing this to a normal employee on one of the biggest days of their careers (and before they really had to perform too). Imagine telling your IT manager that after they completed the huge, ultra-critical, company-wide implementation, that they would be gone? Imagine telling a project manager that their last day was going to be the same day as the huge presentation to a client on a multi-million dollar project?

Who in their right mind would do that? You either do it months in advance so someone can take over ,or, you wait until after everything is done.

Now the other side of that equation is how General Manager Pritchard reacts. Even after being told of his firing, both parties agreed that he would run the draft. I don’t know how much sense that makes from an employer’s perspective. I never advocate keeping a fired employee around, but it has to impact the performance of the employee to a certain degree.

Of course, a pro like Pritchard isn’t going to royally screw up. Most people don’t do that. But on a day where millions of dollars are at stake and the future of the franchise is often determined, I need the best performance possible. No matter how much of a pro Pritchard is, he’s human too.

What are your thoughts? Do you let a fired employee complete his most critical task before they go, or do you find some other way to do it? How about some of the bizarre timings like this you’ve seen in your career?