Abel got canned in Tim Armstrong’s now-notorious address to the AOL troops.
When business leaders talk about having tough conversations, they probably don’t imagine sucking the air out of a room and alienating everyone who works for them.
Yet, straight talking becomes staff walking when the tone becomes menacing.
Last week, the CEO of media company AOL, Tim Armstrong, barely paused for breath when he fired an executive for taking his photo during a meeting - with 1,000 people listening in on a conference call.
In the audio recording, you hear him punctuate a call about layoffs at AOL’s hyper-local news site network Patch with “Abel, put that camera down. You’re fired. Out.”
After five seconds he continues to talk about AOL’s commitment to the network.
The fired man - creative director Abel Lenz of AOL’s hyper-local news site network Patch - had apparently taken photographs of meetings in the past for the internal intranet, so that all staff could see what was happening when they could not be there in person.
The conference call was undoubtedly intended as a call to action. Before he lost his cool, Anderson was saying: “If you don’t use Patch as a product and you are not invested in Patch, you owe it to everybody else at Patch to leave. If you think what is going on right now is a joke and you want to joke around about it, you should pick your stuff up and leave Patch today ...”
Fightin’ words for sure, but the recording has now “gone viral” as an example of the most humiliating firing of an employee for a long, long time.
Some entrepreneurs seem to believe the way to get the best out of people is to pitch them against each other (in the style of Donald Trump) and threaten them with (career) death if they fail.
German investor Oliver Samwer takes the bloodthirsty general’s approach to motivation an email to staff from 2011.
Samwer’s startup incumabtor, Rocket Internet, is a co-founder of the Australian fashion site The Iconic.
“The time of the blitzkrieg must be chosen wisely so that each country tells me with blood when it is time,” he writes.
“We must be No. 1 . . .Only No. 1 can raise unbelievable money at unbelievable valuations. I cannot raise money for No. 2 etc and I have seen it how easy it is for me in Brazil and how difficult in Russia because our team f---ed up.
“So to be clear I will provide you with the money for the most aggressive plan of history… I only care for net revenues after returns to prove you are No. 1.
“I am the most aggressive guy on the internet planet. I will die to win and I expect the same from you!”
That’s not going to work for everybody.
If leaders want to “put a rocket” up their staff, they need to understand what motivates them - and it won’t be making more money for the company or fear of losing their job (beyond an initial desperate bounce).
Management experts at the Harvard Business School identified that we have four drives, which feed motivation:
1. To acquire - obtain scarce goods, including intangibles such as social status.
2. To bond - form connections with individuals and groups.
3. To comprehend - satisfy our curiosity and master the world around us.
4. To defend - protect against external threats and promote justice.
The researchers (Nitin Nohria, Boris Groysberg, and Linda-Eling Lee) found that the desire to bond had the greatest effect on employee commitment and that all four drives accounted for 60 per cent of the employees’ variance in motivation.
“ ... meeting the drive to comprehend is most closely linked with employee engagement. But a company can best improve overall motivational scores by satisfying all four drives in concert,” they write.
“The whole is more than the sum of its parts; a poor showing on one drive substantially diminishes the impact of high scores on the other three.”