Better to fall on your own sword 

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 

 

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