I sometimes read a social network, Quora, where a boss posted a question last week about an employee.
The employee had told them they were going home that night to consider whether they wanted to stay in the job. The boss was asking, should they fire that employee?
One person advised them to sit with the employee the next day and ask if they had considered the matter and what the problem was, and try to resolve it. Another said the boss obviously ‘had issues’ to even ask such a question and must be a problem to work for.
Yet, I sat there reading it all and thought, OK, but where is the respect or functionality in this working relationship with this employee now?
We all hear and read about toxicity and negativity, but that declaration doesn’t seem straight, it seems kind-of threatening: like a passive aggressive hand grenade, attacking the boss, but leaving them without any issues to work with. It is, overall, undermining, devalues the job position and commitment, and claims all the power in the relationship.
I wouldn’t be happy with it, versus a plain, straightforward, ‘I am having an issue, can we discuss it’, which would be absolutely AOK and excellent with me, and would get my serious professional attention and respect.
However, the truth is the question caught my attention exactly because I have been reviewing my own approach to staff lately, because it has generated problems.
I have tended, for an entire lifetime, to commit to people almost regardless of what they do, and the problem with that is that you can end up with people behaving pretty badly – it is truly not a great way to create a great team. For not all employees are great.
I certainly do have some great employees. But I also have some who are not, with perhaps the lowest point being one particular driver.
He ended up stealing my son’s entire school fees just before the final iGCSEs. But he had been a horrible person to work with for years. People around me had no idea why I kept him on, and I cannot count the hours lost to upset and turmoil on his actions.
Yet the weird part was me. I would every time try to get him to understand how damaging all his disappearances were, and ‘hope’ he would hear and not repeat. Instead, he ended up hating me for my lecturing and nearly derailing my son’s life with his final theft.
So why didn’t I get a new and better driver years before? When I look back at all the damage that one person did in my life, across my family, and my business, today, I should so obviously have simply posted an ad, got a new and better driver, and served him notice. The fault was all mine.
And here’s the thing about our lives. There is hope we have that is founded in sense. And hope we have that is actually nonsense.
Hoping that a driver who has left me, my kids, and my business stranded countless times will tomorrow turn into the kind of super-reliable driver that preceded him is nonsense.
If we want good lives, happy relationships, efficient businesses, we must be selective, and invest in what works, and abandon what doesn’t. For there lies a winning formula.
Of course, we must honour employment laws. But we must take great care not to commit to contracts that leave room for constantly poor work and attention. For we face a simple choice. We are only going to build great businesses by paying attention to the calibre of staff and letting weak, disruptive, disrespectful or dysfunctional staff go.
In the end, I think the degree of blame bosses take for employee actions is misplaced. I am not actually responsible for the great work and fantastic attitude of my two or three best staff. They each are. It’s mine to reward them for that. And no more am I responsible for the abysmal performance of my worst two members of staff, they are.
In the end, I am with Jack Welch. Read ‘Winning’. Keep the best.
The author is a Nairobi-based journalist and entrepreneur.
The author is an advocate of the High Court