Firing Someone? Don't Follow Tiger Woods' Example

Last Updated Jul 27, 2011 12:39 PM EDT

Loyalty, as Larry Dorman wrote in the New York Times, has always been Tiger Woods' principal "prerequisite" of those who work for him. No one was more loyal than his caddy, Steve Williams. With Williams on the bag, Tiger won 13 major championships and over 70 tournaments.

Too bad Tiger did not return that loyalty, firing Williams in June.

In fact, Williams remained loyal, not speaking out about his firing until Tiger announced the termination. While Williams has said nothing inflammatory, he released a statement on his website that portrays Tiger like he really is--one more self-absorbed sports star. Now Williams is hinting that he may write a book about his time with Tiger.
After 13 years of loyal service needless to say this came as a shock. Given the circumstances of the past 18 months working through Tiger's scandal, a new coach and with it a major swing change and Tiger battling through injuries I am very disappointed to end our very successful partnership at this time.
Exact reasons for the break up are not clear. Robert Lusetich, who wrote a book about Tiger last year, is reporting that Woods was not happy that Williams had served as a substitute caddy for Williams' friend Adam Scott when Woods was unable to play.

Tiger has every right to change his caddy; he is the one playing the course. Tiger did the honest thing by firing Williams after a face-to-face meeting. But it seems rather callous to do it after Williams had stood by him through his scandals and more recently, the long-down time due to injury. While Williams was Wood's employee, theirs was more partnership, even friendship, than a typical boss-subordinate relationship. The two friends had been each other's best man at their respective weddings.

As Williams told Television New Zealand,
"I'm a very big stickler for loyalty and I stuck with Tiger through his difficult period when a lot of people thought I should have left his side. That was the most difficult period that I've ever been through in my life. I'm pretty hardheaded and took it probably a lot better than my wife and family did, but there's no way that I should have been put through that."
Life as an independent contractor, as Williams seems to be, may not be always fair. But based on my own experience as a consultant, it need not be so heartless.

Here are some suggestions so that an employer and contractor can part the right way--respectfully.

1. Lay your cards on the table. Talk about your dissatisfaction. Begin with what is going well, but focus on what is not going well. Have a conversation. Try to come to a better understanding of each party's needs.

2. Be honest. Sometimes it is time for a change. Innovation is often sparked by situation, the need to do something different to improve or survive. Very often it requires new ideas from new people. The same old same old will not do.

3. Make the other party whole. This is very important, especially for the contractor. Do not cut him or her off at the knees. Fulfill the terms of the contract. Same goes for the contractor. Follow through on those commitments as a professional. Don't leave your employer in the lurch.

4. Stay cordial. No need to burn bridges. In the heat of the moment, it's easy to hurl insults at one another. Very often the contractor will feel the aggrieved party. Employers can smooth things over by offering to help the contractor get additional business with other clients or serve as a reference.

Some of these lessons may apply to managers who must let go employees, but often those terminations tend to be more final. The boss stays; the employee goes. HR needs to be involved to ensure that the termination is legally and ethically compliant. That is different when colleagues and contractors separate. Very often they part as equals with each going their own way.

Parting, as Shakespeare opined, is such sweet sorrow. But in management it need not be so if employer and contractor do it right â€" openly, honestly and ethically.

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