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Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind

How far should you go in trying to be kind to your staff and when do you as a business owner have to say enough is enough? Brett Davidson draws on his experiences as principal and consultant to take a view

Most small firms are keen to foster
 a friendly or family culture if they can. Anyone who has worked in a large corporate may be extra keen to create a business that doesn’t get caught up in the politics that can go hand in hand with a larger company environment.

But when does this desire become un-commercial and a problem? My own experience is that you need to provide tough love on occasions. I remember in my business in Sydney we had an adviser who wasn’t quite cutting the mustard. I had just done a subject as part of an MBA course that was all about designing remuneration systems to encourage the right behaviours. So I set about (with great enthusiasm I might add) designing a four- pronged measurement system that focused not just on business written (which was one metric) but some softer behaviours too including:
• Handing work over to support staff that was correct.
• Turning around work in line with our internal service standards.
• Getting good peer reviews from other team members. Hitting all three? Areas would see the adviser earn substantially more than he currently did, which was one of his issues with us.

As pleased as punch, I went home and explained to my wife the ingenious and motivational package I had created for this guy. She listened intently and then gave me her feedback: “You’re paying him a bonus to do his bloody job. You’re mad.” And that was that. But she was right.

Who’s the boss?
In our attempts to be kind to the people that work for us I am not convinced we do them, or ourselves, any favours. I know what we should have done with this fellow; we should have moved him on.

By putting up with less than adequate performance (and let’s be honest, the performance criteria I had created for this individual were solely to obtain adequate performance, nothing more) we end up
working for the people that we employed to work for us. We bend and flex all over the shop so they’ll be happy at work. Or we end up spending so much time managing them that we can’t perform our own critical role as part of the team. That is madness.

If you’ve got someone in a role that cannot do the job as you require and you have tried some remedial action or extra training already, let them go and make sure you hire someone who does have the skills to do the job. Don’t muck around. Just get rid of them.

Toxic culture
I was also involved with a firm where we turned over all but two of their nine-member team
in 12 months. The culture in the place had become toxic in a kind but misguided attempt to accommodate people. My advice: Don’t do it.

If you’ve got a team and some of that team are not up to speed or spread toxic vibes within the business; cut them out straight away.

You won’t believe how good it feels to finally bite the bullet and make that decision. Your gut has been telling you for months in all likelihood that this is the way to go. And if you recognise any of the things I’m talking about in this article it’s probably time to get a little more commercial.

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