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Gerry Czarnecki makes tough moves at O2 Media without losing employee support Featured

8:00pm EDT April 8, 2010

Gerry Czarnecki can only do so much to help an employee struggling on the job, a truth that he must constantly keep at the top of his mind.

“It’s not my job to be the success,” says Czarnecki, president and CEO at Miami-based O2 Media Inc. “If I have to do their job, then I don’t need them.”

A high-maintenance employee is a luxury that many leaders can’t afford during a recession, says the leader of the 130-employee media production company. So when the time comes to cut ties with an underperformer, how do you make the move without creating a problem with those who remain?

Czarnecki is releasing a book on April 6th titled, “Lead with Love,” that talks about dealing with emotion in the leadership realm.

Smart Business spoke with Czarnecki about how to make tough personnel moves without inciting fear in the workplace.

How do you avoid the spawning of rumors?

From the moment you’ve made the decision to do it, you need to act on it. Because once you’ve decided for certain that you’re going to turn somebody loose, almost invariably, a little clock goes off and you turn off your relationship with them. It doesn’t take long for somebody to feel that.

You have to be forthright, clear and compassionate, and you have to do it in a timely fashion. Because unfortunately, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a small or large organization. There is what we used to call in Hawaii, a coconut wireless. It was a euphemism for the rumor mill. When there are these kinds of decisions being contemplated, somehow people hear about them.

How do you reduce panic about who’s next?

The people who are remaining probably already know that person was failing.

If you have a candid, open relationship with them, they know where they stand with you. If they’re doing their job and they stand well with you, you’ve already told them. They already know and they are already secure in their own skin because you’ve interfaced with them and you’ve given them feedback on how they are doing.

Is there always going to be somebody who is going to be insecure in the organization because they see somebody terminated? Absolutely. You can’t be perfect in your relationships with people. It may be that somebody who doesn’t report to you somewhere else in the organization may conclude that they are next on the hit list. Some of that is going to happen.

What if you feel the fear the day after making a move?

If I walked in the next day and I felt everybody stressed out because I let somebody go, I would be hugely disappointed in myself. I would start reaching out to the people both as individuals and as a group and make sure that there is no ambiguity in their mind as to where they stand.

It’s hard for them to not think they are going to be on the next chopping block. You have to reach out to them and you have to be open. It may be important for you to say to them, ‘Look, we’re doing this now, but I can’t guarantee we won’t have to do it again.’ At least you’re being honest with them about where your head is.

When you are there, you’re saying, ‘You’re important enough that I’m taking the time to go see you.’

Space is a very territorial thing. In my mind, the way you get past all of that is that you have to be visible. People need to trust the leader.

I would never tell the organization no more shoes to drop if I thought that next week I was probably going to have to drop another shoe. I’m not going to get caught in that. I’m going to be as honest and candid as I can while I try to put their minds to ease.

What’s the price of deception?

There’s no doubt if you don’t tell them the truth somewhere along the line, you’ll lose their trust. And when you lose their trust, you’re going to lose them, at least emotionally, even if they don’t walk out the door.

Long before I have to take draconian measures on something, I want to make sure that the people who I’m dealing with in the company know what to expect from me. They know that if I tell them X, they can bank on it.

If somebody comes out with a perception that I’m not being perfectly candid and forthright and attacks me on that in an open forum, I have to be prepared to defend myself.

If I have enough people in the organization who are working their hearts out to succeed, I owe them the candor of knowing whether their working hard is working.

How do you move on?

Think about the well-being of all the people who don’t go. We’ve been through a time in the last year or two years where companies have had to lay people off. They’ve had to take people who weren’t necessarily bad performers and say, ‘I can’t keep you on the payroll because I don’t have enough business to justify it. I have to save the company and unfortunately that means I have to eliminate your job.’

The leader has to look at that and say, ‘I hurt. I feel the difficulty of doing this, but it’s in the best interest of everybody else in the company.’ You have to get past the indiv iduals and think about the organization. The people who don’t do that, they are oftentimes the ones that don’t survive.

How to reach: O2 Media Inc., (954) 691-1102 or www.o2mediainc.com