The Day I Was Forced To Fire My HR Staff…And What I Learned About Dealing With 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 and didn’t want to do it.

And I pushed back hard on the decision.

The result was I got smacked down equally as hard!

*    *    *

My boss informed me this was a corporate mandate.

I had no choice.

Every department head in our division was told to cut their staff by 10%.  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 organizational change.  

Leading and implementing change that you support is easy.

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

Nevertheless, at some point in their career, every HR professional will be challenged to support and implement changes they disagree 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
implement them, even
if you don’t want to!

So how do you work through and overcome your 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 the 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 moving 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 resist 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 OK 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 the critical decision-maker.

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

Energy spent looking back is energy wasted. It’s OK to take stock of why the decision has been accepted and whether you can learn any lessons from how 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.  You must recognize an essential difference between your disagreement with the change and your support and acceptance of it.

Think about your relationships with your spouse or significant other.  There are certainly times when you don’t agree with every decision they make, but you must 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 organizational change, not act as a speed bump.

*    *    *

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

While it can be challenging to get enthusiastic about change you disagree 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 mind.

And here’s what happened…

The point here is…

It’s essential to find some
in the change.

Any 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 the organization are aware of your initial opposition to the new initiative, it’s OK to be honest, and acknowledge that with them.

However, when implementation time comes, you must make sure they know that you’ve turned the corner and have accepted and supported 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 situation. 

However, accepting and implementing unpopular change means finding ways to rise above your emotions and 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 leaders.

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? Please share how you handled it in the comments below.


Want to discover how to handle difficult situations you’ll face 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 the Founder of Success in HR, Inc. and the author of various 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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10 Responses to “The Day I Was Forced To Fire My HR Staff…And What I Learned About Dealing With 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.

  3. Bonnie Says:

    Spot on article Alan. I’ve shared it around. At some point all senior managers have to make these kinds of decisions as corporate mandates.
    I agree with Wayne and I did that once- unfortunately it didn’t work for who I thought would be my successor because the company went outside to hire someone more senior and paid them much more than me. Their value was obviously more appreciated and I have no regrets at having left.

  4. Alan Says:

    Bonnie & Wayne, excellent points. Serving yourself up as part of the downsized group is certainly another option and it will certainly reveal how much you’re valued within the organization.

    Obviously taking this step requires even deeper personal soul searching to determine if you’re comfortable, if the higher ups decide to accept your offer.

    Clearly if you’re dissatisfied with the organization, it’s direction and/or your role within it, it’s an elegant way of packaging yourself out and easing the transition towards finding another better HR role.

    In my case, I didn’t dislike the organization or it’s direction, just this particular decision. So it wasn’t an option for me.

    But for others it certainly could be as you both point out. Obviously pulling the trigger on this option is one that should be approached with careful thought and is not for the faint hearted.

    Thanks again for the great insights and perspective.

  5. Dennis Gaby Says:

    Well written as always Alan

  6. Brian Says:

    Excellent article! I have often wondered how HR leaders can support change they don’t necessarily agree with. I also think HR has to perform a balancing act at times between supporting the business and advocating for employees. While I am under no illusion that, all else being equal, HR professionals will generally come down on the side of the organization if they have to make a choice, it becomes more difficult now that so many people these days distrust HR or think of us as “corporate cheerleaders” or even “corporate drones.”

  7. Diana Says:

    Thank you, Alan, for such a comprehensive description of the whole organizational change process. I had so many ‘aha’ moments while reading your article. I felt like having a truthful ally next to me, who I feel sure, many HR folks would have so much need/ed to have close by, when facing the so much challenging/critical communication with employees affected by an organizational change process. Your deep understanding, through your own HR work experiences and your special writing style, made me recall to mind a saying of Albert Einstein: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”. You do understand HR topics thoroughly. Thank you, for enabling us, the broad HR community, to easily comprehend and grasp them. And, you always incite inspiration towards taking action.

  8. Alan Collins Says:

    Once again, thank you so much Diana for your insightful and kind comments. This was an extremely difficult article to write because it surfaced so many personally painful emotions. I’m thrilled it resonated and provided some helpful insights. Be well and thanks again.

  9. Deborah Says:

    Thank you Alan! Very insightful and relatable, really appreciate the candor expressed in this.

  10. Alan Says:

    Deborah, delighted you found the article worthwhile. Not an easy story to tell for obvious reasons. Hope you are never faced with this situation. But in case you are (or have been) hopefully there’s a nugget or two here that can prove helpful. Be well.