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You're Fired! A story of poor strategic execution

You're Fired! A story of poor strategic execution

by John Roman

A month ago


Storytime! Employee termination is never a fun experience for either side of the table. Unfortunately, it is often a regular part of business. Due to my earlier career in sales management, I have had to terminate my fair share of employees. With certainty, there are better ways than others to handle this.  Today, I present to you a shitshow of termination execution.

Let’s set the scene. I joined this company to open the Atlanta market and build the city’s sales teams. The original plan was to have 3 sales teams in the market. I would be executing a doppelganger of what I had previously managed at another company. Atlanta was the 3rd market they had opened in the first 4 months of a very aggressive ‘Go To Market’ strategy. Houston and Dallas were the first 2 markets and they saw early success which was part of why I made the move to join the company. If the strategy was fully executed there would be around 20 markets within a couple of years. I felt the strategy was unrealistic, but I knew if they were able to execute even half of it, I would be in a phenomenal spot. They were almost exclusively staffing leadership from the company I had come from. A company where I was at the top from just about any metric you wanted to look at. Shortly before me being hired, they had hired two VPs to run the ‘West’ and the ‘East’.  Dallas and Houston were part of the West and Atlanta was obviously the East. 

My basic strategy was to build the first sales team and promote someone from within to run that team while I built the second and third. Eventually promoting 2 more managers to run those teams as they were being built.  This was not rocket science, it was basic scaling. Jack, my VP (and later friend), would quickly open up other markets in the ‘East’ creating even more opportunity. This was the company’s 3rd attempt in a decade at building a nationwide direct sales team. The first two attempts were apparent failures but we did not know why. By the end of this short story, you will understand why.

We hit the ground running. Dallas and Houston were already putting up impressive sales numbers and we knew we had to catch up to them. After about 7 hires, we started to get indirect pushback on additional hires. We were not told ‘No’ to hiring more, just slowed down consistently by corporate. In hindsight, It was a clear indicator that something was wrong. Jack was running into the same issue with opening markets. Corporate was all of a sudden super slow to give the needed ‘head nods’ and would always want to ‘kick the can’ down the road.

Every quarter, we would fly up to Detroit to put together a PowerPoint presentation to present to corporate showing the previous quarter’s sales and the upcoming forecast. Why we had to fly up in person to do this, I never quite understood, but we did.

As time went on, Atlanta started to put up BIG numbers. We had caught up and quickly passed production of Houston and Dallas. It was time to continue scaling. I needed to likely start a second team and Jack needed to open up some additional markets. We continued to get slow responses and pushback from Corporate. 

We were almost a year in and getting ready for our 4-time a year trip up to the big D. Atlanta was still the golden child putting up the big numbers but there were only 3 children still, and that was a problem. While I had prepared my presentation, I was also preparing a strong recommendation to corporate that it was ‘go time’ on the scaling. I had not come to the company to run a single, not fully staffed team.

Jack had his flight booked up to Detroit in the morning. I was going with one of our sales reps to a promising meeting and then I was headed to the airport after that. Jack and I were both in the office that morning. Around 10am, I left for the meeting and he left for the airport. Shortly after checking in at the hotel that evening, I called Jack. His phone went straight to voicemail. He landed a couple of hours before I did though, so straight to voicemail should not have been the outcome. I called the front desk and asked for Jack’s room and was informed that Jack had not checked in. WTF is going on?!?!

I remember talking to Colleen that evening on the phone. I told her something was off and going on when all of a sudden I had a beep. It was Jack. Jack was in Houston. He was about to board his plane to Detroit when he got a call from Corporate. He needed to head to Houston instead because he was going to need to terminate almost everyone in that office. After that, he would travel to Dallas and terminate some (but keep most) more team members. Jack’s counterpart and both the leaders of Houston and Dallas were up in Detroit with me. I had hung out with them hours earlier. I was even sharing an Uber with one of them in the morning to head to corporate. WTF.

Jack was specifically told NOT to tell me any of this, but Jack is a good human being and felt obligated to fill me in. It was the right thing to do. Corporate wanted me to find out about the bloodbath as it was happening all around me. A bloodbath where EVERYONE that had flown in would be terminated except me. Wild. I promised Jack I would not let anyone else know that I knew and I kept that promise. 

I met up with the West leaders in the morning and went to corporate. We all set up shop in a random meeting room around 8 am. Presentations were not until 10 am. The drive over to corporate and the hour and a half in the meeting room was torture. Every part of me wanted to tell my two peers what was going on, but I had made a promise. Around 925 am, the Houston leader had gotten a phone call from one of their sales reps. The rep was letting him know that Jack was in the Houston office. It was very apparent at this point that something was awry. A few minutes later, my two peers and their VP got a meeting invite for an immediate meeting in another room. They were going to be terminated all at the same time by HR. While they went to that room, the head of sales grabbed me and took me to his office. He explained to me what was happening and tried to put a positive spin on it. Jack and I now have a larger team to manage since the remaining staff from Houston and Dallas will report to us. There was no presentation that day. They flew everyone up so they could fire them. I guess they flew me up to tell me I wasn't getting fired and I was a part of their bigger strategy. Lucky me.

Over the next couple of days, I was able to talk to enough people at the company to have a grasp of what was possibly going on. Whether it was leaning up to be acquired, building the sales team much slower and around Jack and me, or insert other strategy here… it was not what I had signed up for. I had signed up for an aggressive ‘Go To Market’ strategy and to scale it quickly. Within a week, I put together an email to the head of sales and the CEO. I outlined the value I knew I brought and that regardless of what the strategy was, I needed to be ‘in the loop’ on it. Further, I needed to be paid significantly more and I needed equity. I told them I did not expect us to hash it out immediately, but they had until the end of the year (which was about 6 months) to figure it out. Crickets. No response from either the head of sales or the CEO. I ended up following up on the email a month later, and a third time a month after that. Crickets. No response was still a response to me. Meanwhile, Atlanta was still producing a healthy amount of sales. 

In December, I started interviewing for my next job. I was closing on a house that year on 12/31 so I waited until the start of January to resign. I gave a one-month notice and there was not much pushback but I ended up being done after the second week (their choice). I was assured by corporate that my team would not be at risk and that Jack would manage them in the short term until a replacement for me was found. Corporate specifically tasked my last days with the company connecting my team to the proper resources at corporate so they would have sufficient support.

My last day was a Friday. 

The following Wednesday, corporate had Jack fire my entire team and then himself when he was the only one left. 

What. A. Shitshow. 

Absolutely wild. Flying people to corporate to fire them. Firing an entire team days after assuring me they would not be impacted. Such bizarre amateur-hour behavior from a 9-figure revenue company. Businesses make mistakes but it boggles my mind that anyone of mild intelligence would think terminating people in this manner was acceptable.

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