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Workplace pecking order: has redundancy ended your leadership?

I want to talk about redundancy.

Have you been given the chop? Expectedly? Unexpectedly?

I have, and it might seem a bit odd, but I’m out proud about it!

It’s a topical subject at a time when we seem to move on Prime Ministers in the blink of an eye.

Many of the best leaders I know around me have been ‘overthrown’. 

Call it redundancy, contract not renewed, moved on after a newer senior structure was put in place. 


The definition, for the purposes of this article, is ‘leaving not of your own accord’.

If you’ve experienced redundancy, you’re in great company!

In Australia especially, we seem to have this stigma attached to perceived failure.
Yet, when we actually look at it, some of the most successful people in the world have been made redundant and have run businesses that failed.

  • Steve Jobs was fired from Apple, the company he co-founded. His second act turned out to be bigger and better than the first.
  • Walt Disney’s newspaper editor told the aspiring cartoonist he wasn’t creative enough.
  • J.K. Rowling spent too much time at work brainstorming story ideas and as a result, she was moved on from Amnesty International.
  • Anna Wintour, the Vogue editor , started her career in New York as a junior fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar. She made waves for her innovative shoots, but Editor Tony Mazalla thought they were a little too edgy. She got canned after a mere nine months.
  • Oprah Winfrey was told by a Baltimore TV producer told that she was ‘unfit for television news’. She was pulled off the evening news and moved to daytime television.

Ok, so maybe you’re not as high-profile as the folks above, but something we all share, through experience, is the emotional roller-coaster associated with not being wanted anymore.

In our favour, for most of us, our situation has never been high-profile and certainly not so very public as some of our good company above. 

Unfortunately the same can’t be said for our ousted, overthrown political leaders, like Tony Abbott, Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd and others.

Regardless of your opinion of the performance of any of our leaders of the past, let’s not forget they are human.

I will quote Mike Baird, the NSW premier who impressed me at the time of Tony Abbott’s ousting, with his words:

“Politics can be brutal.”

“What can be lost in the rough and tumble is the people, and the relationships.”

“I’ve known Tony Abbott for close to 15 years and I am proud to call him a mate. He will be hurting. So will his wonderful wife Margie and his girls. As their friend, I hurt with them.”

Many of those throwing stones don’t see the heart behind the man who has spent decades volunteering at the local surf club or working a shift with the Rural Fire Service… not for political gain, but for the simple reason that he loves his community.

Poor execution leads to poor reputation 

What I find remarkably interesting, particularly as a HR professional who, on most occasions, orchestrates the exit, is the appalling way it’s executed in so many cases.

In my own situation, I put it down to the fact they clearly didn’t have a HR person in their corner, contributing the ’emotional intelligence’ throughout the process. 

But that’s not uncommon.

It’s the little things; for example, my email and internet accounts were cut off days before my exit date.

My manager, who I had a great relationship with and enormous respect for, put someone else in charge of the ensuing conversations.

People will forgive the reasons, and in most cases agree to disagree with the semantics, but rest assured they will always remember the way they were treated, and that’s the stuff they will relay all over the place.

It won’t matter how much energy and resource you put into your employee value proposition if employees are actively re-telling tales of woe – true or not.

Perception is reality.

Deliver redundancy conversations carefully, with empathy and understanding. You may not feel this is personal, but to those being made redundant, it feels incredibly personal. 

Managing the situation well can decrease negative backlash and reputation damage. 

Handle the news with care

If you’re on the receiving end of a ‘moving on’ discussion, if someone else is ‘offering’ you redundancy, allow yourself the emotional time to process what’s happening.

Stand up for yourself, if that’s required, while keeping your dignity and legacy intact. 

Get advice  it’s hard to see clearly at such an emotional time, usually with reasonable sums of money being negotiated. 

Bring yourself to a place of peace and move on with great gusto. 

It may well just be the motivation you needed to do something new, explore that new business idea or accept that next great role. 

Give thanks for the great things the role and the organisation you are leaving brought to you.

I made a decision when I entered HR that the moment I forget I am messing with people’s lives, I will get out – and for right now, I am still very much people-focused, and I am still here!

Best wishes to all who find themselves in talks about redundancy, regardless of the side of the table on which you sit. 

Let’s leave it with the words of Anna Wintour “I recommend you all get fired …