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How Not To Fire A CEO

Yahoo unceremoniously dismissed its embattled CEO Carol Bartz yesterday by phone. Anyone who has followed Yahoo (or simply read the business pages) since Bartz took the position in January 2009 knows that it has been a bumpy ride. But firing anyone, let alone the CEO, on a phone call is harsh.

After being fired, Bartz sent this memo: “I am very sad to tell you that I’ve just been fired over the phone by Yahoo’s Chairman of the Board. It has been my pleasure to work with all of you and I wish you only the best going forward.”

Investors responded positively to the news, as did a few people on Twitter. But firing someone, like breaking up, should be done in person.

Handling a sensitive situation like this properly says just as much about the company as it does to the person being fired. The fired employee shouldn’t haul off and start flinging office furniture or burn bridges by lashing out. And the company should show its soon-to-be-former employee respect, even if their service is no longer needed.

Yahoo now has to find yet another replacement, which is already a tall order since the company goes through CEOs like so many pieces of paper towel. If this is how the company handles interaction with its employees, they might have a problem enlisting a good exec for that job or any other with the company.

The next CEO could make it a priority to improve the way that comms are handled internally. But given the history of the company, its financial struggles, and its ongoing attempts to stay relevant, the new leader will have other things on his or her plate.

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