“Make it work.” I love this phrase. It brings to mind those hard-nosed, over-working small business owners who are keenly aware of the limited resources they have. They have little time for holding hands and for coddling employees. In essence, “You can’t do it? Then get out” is the attitude.
The major metropolitan areas on the East Cost of the US that I have engaged with throughout my career (Philadelphia, New York, primarily) are full of small business owners. Many first generation citizens built their businesses on the 24/7 principle of work ethic with little concern for how much PTO they’ve accumulated or if there is an ergonomic chair for them to sit. They busted their humps and created an atmosphere of hard work above all.
And while I love this (work ethic matters!), I have also gotten to watch these family-run small businesses push their children into roles that they have little giftedness in or desire to do. The guilt of what a grandfather and father have done to build a company sits on the son/daughter who is primed to take over, despite the fact that the son’s/daughter's talents do not lean towards running this business. These conversations are very difficult for a son/daughter to have with dad; there is so much of a personal nature behind it. A father might preach the painful story of how the business began and the work it took to build it. Guilt can easily set in. Ideally, the father will understand and support his child's choice, but often I have seen a dismissal of such a desire and a fatherly push to take over the company.
Perhaps it’s from this traditional thought pattern that some management holds hostage employees who need to go. Companies can find themselves in the unfortunate circumstance of desperately keeping employees because of their knowledge of systems, processes or product despite their lack of cooperation with other staff or overall lack of connectivity to the organization’s mission. The employee has shown that he/she is disinterested and demotivated, but because he/she has been there for some time and knows everything, we have to just deal with it.
Managers have encouraged, yelled, cried with and threatened these employees. And to the detriment of some companies, some of these employees have been promoted through the years and now serve in leadership-type roles (supervisors or managers). Why are these flakes promoted? How is it that the apparent reward of knowledge solely over the full package of long-term connection is quality enough to promote someone like this? Companies find themselves stuck to do this. Well, get un-stuck!
Our places of employment are not Guantanamo. We are not holding prisoners, but employing people (I know, some employees think the former, but don’t you believe them!). If someone is not the right fit, then plans need to be made to transition this person out. Employment at will is still a valid policy in the US and is allowed to be used, as long as it does not conflict with other legislation and policy. So, set up knowledge-sharing opportunities so that those who you do see a future with can learn from those who should go. The words here are simple, but the action of them is tough. Managers think about the chaos that might occur when so-and-so is fired. If our employees are not prisoners, then why is management? The work-relationship is not about that.
If your father said, “you have to work this company and that’s final,” there is more to work through emotionally and relationally rather than just professionally. In our workplace, most of our relationships are not familial. We’re not disappointing two or three generations. Management has a job to do. Finding and keeping talent that will move the company forward is part of our responsibility, just as moving out that talent that is destroying or, at the least, stagnating the mission. And to be honest, we’re not doing any favors to that individual employee who doesn’t fit. Let that person discover what he/she should connect to in a new organization. It’s okay; we’re not their father.