The Day I Was Forced To Fire My HR Staff…And What I Learned About Change!

by Alan Collins

Years ago, I was forced to downsize my HR team by 10%.

This meant firing six talented folks that I had worked with for years.

Their performance results were terrific.

I knew their families.

I had bonded with them personally.

We had enjoyed lots of great times together.

So this was going to be tough.  I hated it.  Didn’t want to do it.  And I pushed back hard on the decision.

The result…

I got smacked down…equally as hard.

My boss informed me that this was a corporate mandate.  I had no choice.

Every department head in our division was being told to cut their staff by 10% too.  Our business results were in the toilet.  Costs and headcount had to be cut.  And the decision was final.  No exceptions.

So, when the day came, I implemented this change and let these team members go.

Every single one of them got a great severance package (I made sure of that!) and all of them landed new HR jobs.  But I was an emotional wreck initially and this bugged the crap out of me for days.

And it should have.

But this episode taught me a lot about organization change.  

Leading and implementing change that you support is easy.

But, when you’re implementing change that you don’t agree with or absolutely hate…it isn’t. 

Nevertheless, every HR professional, at some point in their career, will be challenged to support and implement changes they don’t agree with.  For example, it could be:

You may want to resist changes like these, but if they’re out of your control, you’re stuck with them!  And…

As an HR professional,  you’re paid to help
implement them — even if you don’t want to.

So how do work through and overcome your own adverse feelings about an unpopular change.

Here are four tips:

#1:  Clarify the “why.” 

Make sure you understand the reasons for the change.

Every decision or change should have a business case behind it.  You may not always agree with it, but it is always there.

So ask lots of questions.  You don’t have to probe in an aggressive and threatening manner.  Simply approach this open-mindedly with a goal of understanding the change rationale.

It is possible to disagree and understand at the same time.

Knowing the “why” behind the change, or the specific goals of the proposed change, is the first step towards effectively move forward with some of the changes you initially opposed.

#2:  Do some deep soul searching.

Candidly look within yourself and try to understand why you are resisting this change.

On the flip side, think through the possibility of pushing back.  For example:

Again, be brutally honest with yourself.   It will help you decide whether this issue is something you want to take a stand against and fall on your sword for!

By the way, you don’t need to share this personal self-reflection process with others.  Just be brutally honest with yourself.

#3:  Know the difference between agreement and support.

To help you get past your emotions, it’s fine to be open and honest about your opinions leading up to the change.  If you feel strongly, present your case as compellingly as possible to your boss or to the key decision maker.

However, if the decision goes against you, then it’s time to accept it.

Energy spent looking back is energy wasted. It’s fine to take stock of why the decision has been taken and whether you can learn any lessons from the way you presented your case. But once you’ve done that, then it’s time to move forward.

And, at this point, it’s not okay for you to keep griping about the change…or worst yet roadblock it.  It’s important that you recognize that there is an important difference between your disagreement with the change, and your support and acceptance of it.

Think about your personal relationships with your spouse or significant other.  There are certainly times when you don’t agree with every decision he or she makes, but it’s important that you support and accept it.  Otherwise, your relationship won’t last long.  The same is true of your HR role in implementing change.  You are being paid as an HR pro to support and implement organization change, not act as a speed bump.

#4:  Finally, find the positive and get on with it. 

While it can be tough to get enthusiastic for change you don’t agree with, it can be helpful to dig deep for positive reasons to support the change. 

Even in less-than-great situations, there may be some silver lining.  It may be hard to see at first, but try looking closer!

In the case of downsizing my HR team, the silver lining I clung to was that this change was an opportunity to:

Rightly or wrongly, that’s how I “reframed” this change as a positive in my own mind.

And here’s what happened…

The point here is…

It’s important that you find some positive
in the change — any kind of silver lining
that can authentically resonate with you
— and that can help you get on with it! 

One other thing I should mention.

If others inside of the organization are aware of your initial opposition to the new initiative, it’s fine to be honest and acknowledge that with them. However, when implementation time comes, it’s crucial that you make sure they know that you’ve turned the corner and have accepted and support the change 100%…and that you plan to work flawlessly to make things work successfully.

Why?  Because that’s your job.

Here’s the bottom line.

As an HR professional, you only have three choices when faced with unpopular change:

Those are your only realistic options.  Otherwise, you’ll be walking around perpetually pissed off.   It’s just that simple.

That said, I don’t pretend that any of this is easy.

And I don’t pretend that my approach will work in every single situation. 

However, accepting and implementing unpopular change means finding ways to rise above your own emotions.  Pushing back when you feel strongly.  Looking for the positive.  Getting comfortable with your discomfort…

But then ultimately moving forward as positively
as you can to make the change happen!

That’s the challenge we all face as HR professionals.  And the most successful HR folks among us have learned how to survive…and sometimes even thrive…when dealing with unpopular change.

Are you one of them?

Think about it.

Your career success depends on it.


Have you been in charge of a change you didn’t support? Share how you handled it in the comments below.



Want to get off to a fast start as a new HR leader, then check out: THE NEW HR LEADER’S FIRST 100 DAYS:  How To Start Strong, Hit The Ground Running & ACHIEVE SUCCESS FASTER As A New Human Resources Manager, Director or VP.

For more information about this book, go HERE.

About the author: Alan Collins is Founder of Success in HR, Inc. and the author of a variety of best selling books for HR professionals including THE NEW HR LEADER’S FIRST 100 DAYS.  He was formerly Vice President – Human Resources at PepsiCo where he led HR initiatives for their Quaker Oats, Gatorade and Tropicana businesses.

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2 Responses to “The Day I Was Forced To Fire My HR Staff…And What I Learned About Change!”

  1. Chickie Says:

    Great read as always. I have not been in this situation but would definitely keep this in mind.

  2. wayne Says:

    I always enjoy Alan’s stuff – full of wisdom.
    There’s always another option – put yourself up as part of the 10% – this will give you rich insights into the soul and character of your organization and, of course, whether you are truly valued.