In case you have not heard this before (and with apologies to everyone who is environmentally friendly), we live in a disposable, throwaway society. Though I am pleased that most of us recycle and many of us ride-share or carpool, we still have a long way to go.
However, for this post the kind of disposable “item” I am referring to is not a plastic bottle or that old sweater, but the employee who is struggling or difficult to work with or dissatisfied.
At VIM Executive Coaching we are well aware that certain situations are unworkable. Obviously, an employee who has committed a crime or is hate-filled or grossly inappropriate or a bully should not be welcomed into the corporate or entrepreneurial family. Most troublesome however, are employees, formerly great employees, who are dismissed or isolated because their leaders feel as though they are “too far gone” to be helped or counseled. It is a matter of perception.
John, “The Taskmaster”
Not long ago I worked with a vice president of operations at an international manufacturer of sporting goods. John’s philosophy of management was to place high expectations on all of the employees in his group. When they faltered, or he perceived them as failing, he got rid of them. They were either transferred or fired. There was no middle ground. His philosophy was simple, direct but very flawed: “When they start to fail, I no longer want to look at them. They’re dead weight.”
Perhaps that philosophy might have worked in the 1950s, where workplaces were often dictatorial and inflexible, but all these decades later the workplace has radically changed. Work teams are highly interconnected, often far-flung across cities, states or even continents, and the communications, technology and manufacturing processes have gone from simple to complex.
My point here is that as an executive coach, I know all too well how difficult it is to find and then nurture quality employees who have the expertise and the loyalty to get the job done. Quality employees are not commodities, not in a 2017 almost 2018 work environment.
Perhaps decades ago, when the workplace was essentially centralized with perhaps a few sales offices and relatively simple manufacturing and distribution systems, employees were more interchangeable. I am not saying that loyalty was nonexistent. There was tremendous loyalty, but I am saying that in today’s work environment quality, technologically savvy employees are not easy to find.
The techniques we teach at VIM Executive Coaching are in opposition to the concept that failing employees are beyond redemption. We believe; indeed, we teach that by reacting in a negative fashion to an employee who is having workplace difficulties is counter-productive. An employee who might have legitimate issues should not be forced into a category or a box stamped “unworkable,” he or she needs an authentic response.
To dismiss or isolate an employee out-of-hand, without truly responding to their needs or frustrations or points of view, does not help the organization. Though the particular situation with the problem employee may prove to be unworkable, unless the specific circumstances of the problems are those where the executive leader is authentically responsive to that employee’s concerns and needs, nothing is gained.
In responding rather than reacting to employee apprehensions, the executive leader might determine underlying problems, justifiable worries or even hidden conflicts not apparent to a manager who merely applies the same response to any situation. No two situations are ever quite the same.
At VIM Executive Coaching, we want to always teach and encourage executive leaders to be authentic and to respond to every employee as people and not parts or commodities. It is easy to view a situation as unworkable if all an executive leader is doing is reacting. Unless there is an authentic response to a seemingly unworkable employee situation, nothing is truly gained. In the long-term, especially in today’s work environment, reaction no longer works.