Stuart Randle | Crain's Silicon Valley

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Stuart Randle

Background:  

Stuart Randle is the CEO of Ivenix, a medical technology company focused on "smart pumps" for intravenous infusion.

The Mistake

About 20 years or so ago, I was pretty young in my career and was working for a very large corporation when we were going through a pretty significant restructuring and consolidation. I was in a situation where I had to terminate an individual who happened to be a very good friend of mine, about 10 or 15 years older than me and a legend with the previous generation of leaders. Needless to say, it was a very uncomfortable situation to be in as a young executive.

And so I went into the meeting well-prepped from HR. I had all my scripts. I was more than a little nervous and anxious and not at all looking forward to this conversation. I went in — in retrospect, way too fast — and read the script and said basically, “OK, we're done.”

The massive mistake I made was not listening to him and not providing an opportunity for him to tell me how he felt and how he was treated. I really blew it on the softer side of management: understanding the person and his feelings.

He took it well and seemed very calm and relaxed. He didn't appear to be pissed off; you know, in retrospect, he was probably shell-shocked. Afterward, he started talking to some of his friends, and [from them] it was like, “I can't believe this happened to Joe,” and I got some phone calls; people asked, “What happened?” No one debated for a nanosecond whether it was the right decision or not; it was how it was handled that was the big mistake.

Empathy for employees engenders greater teamwork and greater energy. 

The Lesson

I think that in the world we live in today, empathy for employees engenders greater teamwork and greater energy. You don't want to be viewed as a hardass who fires people without a heart. I personally believe that being able to salvage better personal relationships really helps the team dynamic — and the likelihood of success of the organization.

When I have to have these difficult conversations with people now, I really go slow; I tell myself to stop; I ask, “How do you feel?” It's an entirely different level of communication, and it's very helpful.

Slow down. Listen. If they're not speaking, try to understand how they're feeling and how they view the conversation. Because if you do that, you get a better outcome for everybody.

Ivenix is on Twitter: @IvenixInc.

Photo courtesy of Stuart Randle