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Delayed Decisions

November 26, 2009

Think back to the last time that you had a job for a period of time that you weren’t doing well. You probably weren’t enjoying it much and the prospects for positive change in the future were slim.

Who was the first person that recognized that this wasn’t the right job for you? Probably you, although you may not have admitted it to others. Who was one of the last people to recognize that you weren’t working out? Probably your boss.

What did the two of you do as a result? Most likely you fooled each other and avoided the situation for awhile. You delayed a career decision that was going to be in your best interest. The boss postponed a personnel decision that was inevitable. Perhaps you jointly entered into a meaningless cosmetic change in title or arranged to get “promoted upstairs” to avoid the issue. Regrettably it probably all resulted in an uncomfortable and costly experience for both you and your employer.

Now that you’re the boss what can you learn from this experience? The owner of a rapidly growing business recently shared the following story with me. As his business reached three million in sales, he had hired a competent financial manager to be the controller. The new controller restored order to the financial records and supplied accurate and timely information.

As the business continued its rapid growth in sales and employment, there were increasing administrative tasks that needed to be done and the controller assumed additional responsibilities in these areas. While the business continued to prosper, confusion and conflict increased in the office and administrative areas. It became apparent that the controller lacked “people management skills” and was having a negative impact on the general administration of the business.

Recognizing the situation and motivated to do the “right thing”, the owner first “promoted” the controller to a position that kept him occupied mostly with numbers and hired another individual to perform the management functions of the controller and serve as office manager. As the company continued to grow, the problem didn’t go away. The owner next attempted a definitive change in title and created the position of Director of Management Information Systems.

Eventually the owner faced the inevitable and notified the former controller that he should find another job within six months. This final attempt at generous treatment resulted in nearly three months of increased conflict and low morale before the employee was given an immediate release with pay for the balance of the six months.

There are no easy personnel decisions and the costs of not making the hard ones quickly are high for everyone involved. If you accept it as generally being true the employee is the first to know when things aren’t working out and the boss is the last to know, anytime you delay a decision you are probably making a big mistake.

Changing titles and promoting people “upstairs” are common maneuvers that are rarely successful. If your business is beginning to accumulate a lot of job titles that are long, cumbersome and don’t really identify responsibility, you may already have a problem. When you make a personnel decision, implement it promptly and be fair in your settlement. However, do yourself, your business and your soon to be ex-employee all a favor, and don’t keep them on the job even if they are on the payroll during a transition period.

I have seen enough people fail at one job or at one company and then be successful elsewhere, that I believe that there is a right job for everyone. If someone is not in the right job, delaying the inevitable is damaging to everyone. Your business is hurt, you are frustrated, your other employees can be demoralized and you are not doing the soon to be terminated employee any favor.

You are leaving them in a position where will be uncomfortable and unhappy (everybody wants to make positive contributions, have some security and be recognized for their efforts). You will really only be delaying their opportunity to move onto a situation where they can succeed. When you first get the idea that you should fire one of your employees, you are probably already too late.

The success of your business depends on the aggregate performance of all of your employees. It’s vitally important that you choose your employees well, train them carefully and regularly review their performance. You must determine those of your employees who are contributing and those that are not. Then you must act.

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