The Common Scold

The Common Scold is named after a cause of action that originated in Pilgrim days, when meddlesome, argumentative, opinionated women who displeased the Puritan elders were punished by a brisk dunk in the local pond. Believe it or not, the tort lasted until 1972, when State v. Palendrano, 120 N.J. Super. 336, 293 A.2d 747 (N.J.Super.L., Jul 13, 1972) pretty much put it to rest. But the thought of those feisty women, not afraid of a little cold water, has always cheered me up and inspired me. I first used the moniker as the name of my humor column at the University of San Francisco School of Law many moons ago, and revive it now for this blawg!



Fired_1 A provocative post by Bruce MacEwen over at Adam Smith Esq. ...that I wholeheartedly agree with. Sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to give a disruptive employee the proverbial ax.

Writes MacEwen:

"How common is this scenario?:  The CIO needs to improve the quality and credibility of the firm's IT implementations, but since he lacks the money and resources he believes would be needed, he's looking for a less expensive way to boost IT's performance.

If he asked you, what would you recommend?  Beats me as well, but Michael Schrage, co-director of MIT's Media Lab and a monthly columnist for CIO magazine, has a snappy comeback:  Fire the right person. 

And don't kid yourself that you don't know who that is:  It's the person who's the consistent obstacle to bringing projects in on time, who's the prima donna, who may be a brilliant coder but who views his peers as jerks."

Well said, Bruce.

One of the hardest lessons for me to learn as a new manager when I first came to New York is that sometimes the best thing you can do for an employee (and your remaining staff) is to fire him or her. Especially when you have a small operation, where it's absolutely essential to have a harmonious work environment. One bad apple can so taint the bushel.

And sometimes, there's nothing wrong with the apple, it's just in with a box of oranges.  I remember the first (and only, thankfully) time I was fired -- from a chi chi boutique law firm where I was absolutely miserable trying to fake an interest in insurance cases involving causation issues for houses damaged by earth movement after a particularly wet Bay Area winter. Can you say "not a good fit." (I have zero, nada, no interest in geology.)

I was just about to quit when I was fired. I was so happy I couldn't see straight -- a reaction that confounded my very nice boss, who was acutely uncomfortable about the prospect of having to give me a pink slip over a gentle lunch. It was an unmitigated relief to have somebody else force the decision, rather than let inertia keep me in an unhappy job.

I learned, quickly, that you have to be in the right soil to bloom. For me, that means a  merit-driven, creative,  "star system," spirited, "what have you done for me today," no-resting-on-laurels environment -- I would bomb in a more tightly-bound traditional corporate culture. Strong personalities thrive in our shop; I wouldn't last five minutes in any other weather.

(Of course, an important caveat: "Fit" is often code for "just like us," and sometimes used as an excuse to avoid diversity. THAT is a HUGE mistake.) But finding work environments where you can excel does include being sensitive to what type of infrastructure helps you bloom. Some of us do better in structured environments, some do better free range.

Then I became a boss. As a baby-boomer with Berkeley roots, the first time I had to let somebody go filled me with angst and self-doubt. I dragged it on way too long, hoping for a better outcome... until I finally realized that the staffer just wasn't going to work out, and I would be doing all of us a favor to accept that so everybody could move on.

In our launch issue of Small Firm Business, we ran a fascinating article by Tamara Loomis, called "Star Search." Loomis interviewed industry experts about how to do more effective hiring, and one quote from Julie Pearl, of The Pearl Group, a Silicon Valley-based immigration firm, resonated: "Hire slowly, fire quickly." Good advice, indeed.

February 17, 2005 | Permalink


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» T.G.I.FIRED ALREADY from Legal Blog Watch
The Common Scold has scheduled some five-second therapy for managers who hesitate to deliver a little pink slip love to employees who have earned it. And she's bringing out the big guns: Julie Pearl of The Pearl Group, Michael Schrage [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 18, 2005 1:54:16 PM

» Sometimes You Add by Subtracting - Another Take from South Carolina Trial Law Blog
After reading Bruce MacEwen’s post on sometimes the best way to increase productivity is through firing the right person, I read Monica Bay’s  take on her blog the Common Scold. Monica states: Then I became a boss. As a baby-boomer... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 2, 2005 10:37:14 PM


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