October 26th, 2010
It seems it should be pretty easy to tell the difference between success and failure, doesn’t it? Any grammar school teacher would mark you correct for listing them as opposites. Yet more often than we think, I would venture a bet, we should be asking this question.
If your business is stuck in idle, is this success for holding on during the recession or failure to innovate and find some new way to help your customers? If you are able to promote from within to a new position, or consolidate groups to have one manager rather than two, and you save a bunch of money but this person is simply adequate, is this success or failure? What if you had two dynamite people instead, that cost more but brought in many times their cost to the bottom line? What about a killer salesperson who can close the big deals, but oversells the customer and in a very short time, the customer is not happy? Contrast this with an average deal maker, but resulting in highly satisfied customers who come back and buy more as they need it?
You can begin to see that the question is not so black and white. Or is it?
I recently was talking with a client about an internal struggle that had arisen. They found themselves in a situation where they had assigned an employee, let’s say Shelby, as the lead over a particular long-term project. After some shuffling of positions over time for various reasons, Shelby’s manager ended up on the project team, so for the purposes of the project, was reporting to Shelby. All was well for a while but then the manager, let’s call this person Pat, wasn’t carrying their weight. Pat wasn’t missing deadlines (yet) or doing something that was immediately addressable, however Pat was no longer being a valuable member of the team. In fact, Pat’s lack of participation and constant barrage of “devil’s advocate” or “just for the sake of argument” discussion was stalling the group’s progress, and ultimately undermining what Shelby and the group were trying to accomplish (which in turn, costs the company money).
The client tried talking with Pat, but this did not help. Still the same, except it became a larger issue now for Shelby. However, Pat was a pretty good employee otherwise, not exceptional, but pretty good. They were afraid of losing Pat, or if they cut Pat, what it would cost to bring in someone new, train them, etc. The rest of the team that Pat managed, liked Pat in general and was pretty happy. So they basically told Pat and Shelby to work it out among themselves. Where was the success or failure? Which is/was which?
Here is where I had to work with the client to examine the issue a little more closely. So you have Pat and you have Shelby. Both pretty good workers, been with the company more than 5 years, and all is well, until this situation occurs. Before you ask…As the recession had hit, people were shuffled some as positions were not filled, others as positions were eliminated or groups were merged…so the obvious question of do they both have to remain on the project team was moot. However, even if it wasn’t, I’m not sure I would have changed my mind.
How successful is Pat really if Pat can’t handle a change in leadership? Sometimes team players have to play a different role to achieve the overall goal. Companies are most successful when they work to everyone’s strengths….when they have the right people in the right seats on the bus. And sometimes the business has needs for people to serve in various capacities for the needs of the business, and the very reason they need them to serve in that capacity is because of the seat they fill on the bus. So if you run into this situation, and with guidance and support, it does not resolve, you have most likely hit the capacity of the employee. If the employee is not comfortable remaining in that position, and can’t act effectively while other people might progress, it’s time to address the situation. Not addressing it is failure.
Pat undermining Shelby impacts the team no matter what. Initially people might hold it together and ignore the situation or feel it doesn’t pertain to them. But eventually some other issue will arise and the team’s productivity will be negatively impacted. This costs money. A lot of money. A lot more money than addressing the problem with one person. The team will feel management is not effective at handling these situations and will have a loss of faith, perhaps respect, and eventually loyalty. And now, the problem has snowballed into a team issue rather than one person. It would have been far better to address the situation earlier on, immediately validating the issue and if remedial action was not effective in resolving the issue. The difficult choice to eliminate the person has to be made. Otherwise, you have one spoiled apple disrupting the whole cart.
I have actually encountered this situation, or very similar, multiple times over the past few years. It kind of boggles my mind really. We are in a recession so hiring great talent is easier than it has ever been. However, I find that organizations are simply afraid to move, period. It’s like they are sitting, holding their collective breath, hoping things don’t fall down, but afraid to take a step in any direction for fear of it being the wrong one.
Analysts hold that smaller, more innovative companies always come out on top after a recession. These companies are more nimble and have a culture of innovation, so they can quickly position themselves to take advantage of the opportunities in a recession. Yes, there are opportunities in a recession! They might be a little more difficult to find, but they are there. So whether not addressing employee situations, not maintaining the integrity of management and leadership, or not looking for innovative ways to meet your customers changing needs, inaction is action unto itself. Inaction is failure. Let’s not deny it anymore.