Employ People; Don’t Adopt Them

I cringe when a business owner tells me “Our company is just like a family.” I have a family, and thankfully my business is nothing like them.

Family members have the right to unconditional love. They can make mistakes (and in the case of children, the same mistake multiple times) and expect to be forgiven every time. What they receive from you is based on need, not ability.

If that is how you treat your employees, I’m guessing that your business is in big trouble.

Employees are hired. They have a contract, whether it is written or not. It requires a certain level of job performance, in return for which they receive wages and benefits. If they can’t or won’t hold up their end of the bargain, you have no obligation to stick to yours.

More importantly, allowing one employee to fail without suffering the consequences is unfair to all the others. If you do it regularly, you won’t have any good employees left to carry the load.

When you interview a new employee, I’m sure you say things like “We want people on our team that we can depend on.” Or “You will be joining a group of folks who work hard and do a great job.” Do you believe it when you say it? I hope so, or else we know where to place the blame for performance problems.

Many business owners fall into a deadly routine of accepting mediocrity. First, they hire based on whether they can get one person less expensively than another. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard “I liked the other applicant better, and he had more experience, but he wanted a hundred dollars a week more.”

A hundred dollars? Really? You can’t see anything in that position that, done efficiently, correctly and with enthusiasm, couldn’t add $5,000 a year to your bottom line? Why does the job exist at all, in that case?

Then there are a thousand excuses (not reasons) for hanging on to a mediocre performer. He or she does the job well enough. His mistakes are regular, but usually minor. She has a great personality, and everyone likes her. He is the designated driver for the Friday after-work parties. She coordinates all the birthday cards and cakes.

Those might be reasons to stick with your family, but they aren’t justification for spending precious payroll dollars.

Perhaps he was ill, and never quite got back up to speed. Or she had issues in her family, and has been distracted. Employees have lives. They fall in love, break up, get back together, get married and get divorced. They have children, parents, siblings and pets. They buy houses, make  investments both good and bad, and get sick. Those aren’t reasons to be paid not to do their jobs.

 Of course we all care for our employees, and we want to treat them well. In practice, you routinely accept that they have no intention of giving you the same consideration. Do you think I sound callous? Try this little exercise. Call your employees together and make this speech.

 “As some of you know, I have had a number of personal problems over the last few months. Things aren’t so good at home, and my portfolio has taken a shellacking. I’ve also been to see the doctor, and he says that I have a chronic condition that, while not life-threatening, will require some extensive treatment.”

“Because of these issues I haven’t been able to give my full attention to the business, and our performance has suffered because of it. I am fully confident that we will recover, but in the meantime we won’t be able to issue paychecks until further notice.”

 Yeah. You know how much sympathy you’d get. Perhaps a mumbled “I’m sorry” as your longest-tenured employee cleaned out his desk.

 Entrepreneurs have less slack, less margin for error and less flexibility than their employees. Expecting a reasonable day’s work for a reasonable day’s pay is fair, equitable and sustainable. Paying for work you don’t receive is unfair to you, your customers and your other employees.

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2 Responses to Employ People; Don’t Adopt Them

  1. Claire Gard says:

    Great read and so true

  2. shandi says:

    I agree. Great read

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