SugarHouse Casino has been on a hiring spree, growing from 1,200 employees to 1,650 as of June, staffing up for the Philadelphia casino's $164 million expansion. With all that hiring in the air, it seemed the perfect time to talk to SugarHouse general manager Wendy Hamilton about the opposite -- being fired.
In our executive Q&A published in Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer, I asked Hamilton if she had ever been fired:
Answer: Well, let me think. I have left a job that I didn't expect to leave. Let's put it that way. I don't know that it would go down in the books as a firing, Jane. I know what it feels like to be unexpectedly separated from your employment.
I'll tell you that's a good lesson for any executive to have. Somebody taught me once, and I learned this before it happened to me. Somebody said to me once, because when you're running a business with 1500 employees, you occasionally have to fire people and it doesn't feel good. It never feels good.
The very smart person said to me, `Wendy, when you have to terminate someone's employment, it should never be a surprise to them.' And so, we typically go through five steps of progressive discipline. A lot of employers have something very similar, but a key part of working here is that when somebody's not hitting the standard they need to hit -- it could be technical in nature or related to the specific skills of the job. It could be attendance related, getting here on time, getting here when expected -- there's a very frank conversation that is always right there out on the table.
Because if you continue to say to a person and document multiple times that you've had the conversation, then they are choosing not to continue to work here by continuing to do the same thing, or by not showing up or not showing up on time. If you've made it really, really clear to a person what needs to change and they have just chosen not to change it, then it doesn't feel as bad to say you know what, this was not a good fit. I wish you the best of luck, but we can't do this anymore because it's not working. It's like any relationship. It just wasn't a good fit. It's a square peg in a round hole. It doesn't make you a bad person. It means you don't belong in this environment. So, the person who taught me that I thank them, because it has shaped the way very much that we manage this workforce and how we talk to people and how it goes when you finally have to call it a day on somebody, it's never a surprise.
Question: Was it a surprise when it happened to you?
A: It did happen to me once and it was a surprise.
Q: It was a surprise?
A: It was a surprise, but I was in a higher level job. I was an executive. All companies have politics. I don't want to get into the details of it on the record. Again, I think that all of these things are things that shape how you treat other people. So, if it needed to be reiterated to me that it should never be a surprise, that was the event that helped me go, `Yeah, okay, so now I see why, because it changes you a little bit when that happens to you.
Q: In what way?
A: I don't think I ever took lightly what it meant to take away someone's employment, but when it happens to you, you feel it more deeply. You realize exactly how grave it is to separate someone from the means by which they support their family.
Like I said, if you are here and you are not performing to our standard, you will know it very clearly. So, I will always call it your choice. You knew. You chose not to change. So, this was coming and it was no secret to you. That's very important to me. It should never be a surprise.
Q: It seems like it really affected you.
A: Yes, I think I've always thought, and this is with so many things, not to get philosophical on you, but I think your life is a journey and everything that happens to you happens for a reason. It's really true.I don't know what the ultimate objective it or what we're supposed to know or where we're supposed to get to before we leave this world, but you're supposed to learn from everything you do and everything that happens to you. Even the things that you think, `Why the heck would that ever happen?' Some day it's going to bear itself out why it happened. I've had so many things, and you're going to ask me for an example and I won't be able think of one sitting here. But, everything that's happened to me, good or bad, in my life, I look back later and thought, `Thank God that happened. Because if that hadn't happened, then this wouldn't have happened. Who can say? It's a crazy, complicated fabric. I feel very, very lucky to have the life that I have and events, both good and bad, led to this.
NEXT: How SugarHouse hires. (Hint -- it can involve singing.)