The origins of the expression come from Ancient Rome where a
disgraced soldier was expected to commit suicide by stabbing
themselves in the stomach , literally falling on their sword. Today
to fall on your sword means to do the honourable thing and resign
rather than wait till you’re very publicly dismissed. It’s a specific
skill to persuade someone to, “ fall on their sword”. A mismanaged
conversation and someone the organisation was desperate to see the
back of suddenly has grounds for constructive dismissal.
Why would HR want some one to fall on their sword rather than be
dismissed? I inherited a situation in one organisation I worked for
where a middle manager had over a number of years been allowed to
drift into a very unspecific role. One of those people that colleagues
ask, “ what exactly does he do ?” He had a number of line managers
over the years as every re organisation was used to “give him to
someone else”. Every manager described him as difficult to manage and
very good at avoiding work. Non had formerly addressed this through
competency procedures partly because the procedures were long and
torturous but the fact that he was the only black manager based in HQ
was probably another reason for leaving it to someone else to deal with.
In another example an employee who worked with people with a learning
disability had been suspended for over a year on full pay whilst on
police bail. The police were conducting an investigation into
allegations of sexual abuse. The investigation was protracted because
the police did not feel individuals with a learning disability made
reliable witnesses so wanted as much collaborating evidence as
possible. The police did not want any internal disciplinary action to
be commenced in case it compromised their investigation.
The last example is probably more common than is generally realised.
This was not an issue of competence or misconduct. The individual was
a senior manager, experienced and well regarded by the board who fell
out with the new chief executive. A personality conflict rather than
any specific issue. The chief executive wanted HR to convince the
individual that, “ they didn’t have a future in the organisation” and
discuss an exit package.
Persuading someone to fall on their sword isn’t just about getting
someone to go quietly it’s about protecting the organisations
reputation and HR are well placed to do this.
Blair Mcpherson former Director author and blogger www.blairmcpherson.co.uk