Why we tolerate despicable employees

Dan Kennedy argues that many business owners interact with their subordinates like spineless wimps. They hold off as long as possible from firing ineffective employees, even those who are downright detrimental to the business. Dan chalks it up to lack of character and reluctance to make tough decisions. But, in my view, there’s more to it than that.

Why do we resist letting go of even a blatantly weak employee?

Firstly, of course, there’s the need to deliver unpleasant news face-to-face to the employee. This requires a certain amount of psychological energy and bravery. This is the obvious reason that Kennedy points out. But let’s delve deeper. What else are we afraid of?

We’re afraid of the necessity to find a replacement. Oh! That’s a much more serious problem. Hiring personnel is a headache for almost every manager. Looking for a replacement will require the manager’s energy in any case, even if the task is outsourced.

There’s no guarantee that the new hire will be better than the old one. Or that they won’t leave on their own accord after a couple of weeks. And that this vicious cycle might not have to be repeated all over again.

Newbies need to be trained. This can be a quite non-trivial task if there’s no established training process in the company. And this is mainly possible only when the main business processes in the company are regulated. Yet, process regulation is another major headache for managers.

If we’re talking about a small business owner, they fear something else. That the disgruntled employee will go to competitors or even set up a competing company themselves.

Now, the situation is clearer. We’ve identified four more significant problems associated with replacing an employee. It’s now easier to understand that a businessman might not be as soft as they appear, they simply have an instinct for these things – a gut feeling, if you will – but they might not have the words to articulate it.

How to build a business so you’re not hostage to sloppy employees?

Here’s a basic gameplan:

  • Firstly, devise a hiring process that minimizes resource expenditure. Automate the collection of resumes and simplify their processing.
  • Secondly, minimize the “expert determination of key candidate competencies.” In plain language – don’t rely on the HR manager’s hunches. Instead, rely on candidate testing and evaluations under conditions that closely simulate the actual work environment.
  • Thirdly, take more people on board for training than you plan to keep on the job.
  • Next, establish a training process. To begin with, write a training program that includes 10-15 basic skills the employee must master during their probation period.
  • And of course, grow a backbone and have the courage to fire if you don’t feel like going to the office when that particular employee is on shift.

I’m purposely leaving out process regulation as it’s a rather vast topic. But it has to be done anyway as it’s crucial not only for employee training but also for overall business development.

The Fear of Payback

The separate issue is the fear of employees «jumping ship» to competitors. Understand this:

if you behave unethically towards your employees, they’ll reciprocate in kind.

Avoid cheating, underpaying (it’s not uncommon for an employee to receive less than promised after a month’s work), and the like. This is a surefire way to breed hostility.

Moreover, there’s a simple way to protect against the “poaching” of your business. Divide the responsibilities of your employees in such a way that no single one has complete oversight of all company processes. Separate marketing, sales, and procurement. Without knowing the key processes of one of these areas, it will be quite challenging to create a similar business. The only person who could potentially do this would be a hired director, and you should be very careful when hiring for this role.

Lastly, if your business does not create unique value for the consumer, and merely survives on some arrangements or the fact that others simply don’t know that such a thing is possible, you will find it challenging to keep it afloat. If your business can be copied by a regular employee earning minimal wage, it’s worth considering: maybe you should be doing something else?

In summary, I’d like to say that all of this requires significant managerial resources and the right business model that allows for paying good salaries to employees. It’s not easy, which is why most companies do things differently. But then again, most don’t rise to the top. By definition.

The majority (and I must admit, I belonged to this group for a long time) pay low wages, and as a result, don’t have a line of qualified candidates eager to work for them. The ones who show up for interviews are the ones who just got fired or are unemployable elsewhere. They’re unmotivated, illiterate, and most importantly — not loyal to you. At any given moment, they could bolt for a more attractive opportunity. So the last and perhaps most crucial point is – pay decent wages, so that you are the one choosing, not being chosen.

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