Integrity Matters
September 27, 2006

Terminated workers deserve better than e-mail notice

Question: (E-259)

Dear Jim:

RadioShack laid off 400 employees by e-mail in Fort Worth, Texas, in August. Is that leadership with integrity?


Treating human beings like inventory to be hired, used and insensitively dismissed when no longer needed is unprofessional and demonstrates a lack of leadership integrity.

How can e-mailed job terminations be justified? If there were an award for being totally insensitive, RadioShack's recent human resources actions would put them near the top. Making decisions about profit objectives and personnel needs is the responsibility of those in charge. How those actions are carried out communicates the quality and integrity of leadership. Such callousness about people is an image that will stick with RadioShack for a long time, probably discouraging all but the most desperate from applying to work there.

What is even more fascinating than the hideous decision to terminate 400 jobs electronically is the pathetic implementation process provided by those in human resources. After calling the employees to an all-hands meeting and alerting attendees that lay-offs would be announced online, those in human resources suggested that any questions be communicated on RadioShack's intranet site. Just a few days later, those in HR sent the following e-mail message: "The workforce reduction notification is currently in progress. Unfortunately, your position is one that has been eliminated."

For those who behave like time is more important than people, such methods appear appropriate. RadioShack senior management has disconnected trust with communication. Three minutes per person might not be sufficient for an exit announcement, but basic decency should suggest that the human touch is essential. The report about the tenure of some who were laid-off suggests many were longtime employees.

Lessons to be learned:

  • Downturns in income often reflect poor leadership, including failed strategies and inadequate contingency planning. Yes, emergencies and catastrophes do occur, but even then, proper, prior planning prevents pathetically poor performance.
  • Wise leaders find ways of spreading the pain throughout the organization, top to bottom, retaining valued employees.
  • Valued employees will appreciate these constructive, supportive and alternative efforts by management to protect everyone. They will have been informed about all of the issues that caused the crisis. Such candidness and fairness can increase loyalty and commitment to the organization and its mission.
  • Challenges are opportunities to galvanize individuals and teams - when integrity-centered organizational attributes are perceived in how leaders operate with character, honesty, openness, authority, partnership, performance, charity and graciousness.
  • Leadership with integrity relies on continually open, forthright, personalized communication. Hiding behind impersonal e-mails does not qualify.
Doing what is right (integrity) can lead to doing well.

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