Years ago, back when I was one of three owner-managers of Young Isaac, we would often be faced with The Conversation about this employee or that — should she get a raise? should he be fired?

Those were the kinds of question that, in the hands of gifted managers, can really drive wonderful decisions for all involved.

But, as readers of Net Cotton Content know, I'm not a skilled manager. When the big conversations arise, I bumble and mumble. (Some gems might spill out. But a few useful observations don't make a manager.)

One Memorable Case
There was a young person — let's call her, inaccurately, "Louise" — who had come to work for us. During her interviews, she claimed to know a variety of technical software programs.

But, within a couple short weeks, it was obvious that she did not. Louise didn't know these programs. She knew how to spell them on her resume. But she didn't know how to use them.

Oh, Louise.

The Conversation Starts
So my partners and I fired up The Conversation.

There were extenuating circumstances. Louise is this. Louise is that. We liked Louise because of this. And that.

There were lots of reasons to keep her. There always were, because my partners and I were nice people. And, as advertising creatives, we are all — deep in our hearts — able to fall in love with anyone. We see the humanity, we admire the talents, we want to love.

We came up with 1,001 reasons to retain Louise. Even though she didn't know what she was doing.

The Conversation Ends
Until The Conversation reached our homes — and the spouse of one of our partners, He's a seasoned and rational creative executive and asked this:

"If you don't fire people for technical incompetence, what do you fire them for?"

Ouch. That was a real buzz kill. And right on. My partners and I had to stop managing our firm like An Employee Therapy and Rehabilitation Group.

And we had to cut Louise.

Why This Topic Now?
Because companies are forced to cut employees in a recession. (And — have you heard — we are in a recession. And we are headed for a Recession. Which will turn into a RECESSION. And then become a RECESSION.)

And I can hear — all over town — nice people starting their own version of The Conversation.

If you are an employer, it makes sense to consider the extenuating circumstances. But it's helpful to hold in your hands a list of the employees ranked by technical competence.

And, if you are an employee, it makes sense to refocus on your technical competence. If you don't know completely how to do your job — and the job of the fellow beside you — it's time to learn how.

Right Now.
Because, if they fire you for extenuating circumstances, you can still have the dignity of know that you knew how to do your job.

But, if they fire you for technical incompetence, you're going to feel mighty glum.