A business acquaintance recently told me she dreaded having to fire an employee. “She’s the best assistant I’ve ever had,” Leah said. ”Except that she has no business sense. She argues with the suppliers, and tells them they’re overcharging us. She tells customers to write a letter, or to call back next month. And two years after I asked her to file our monthly reports in a new format, she’s still using the old one, so I have to go back and correct them all. She wanted more responsibility, so I let her handle two new accounts,” Leah continued. “But she ended up losing both of them. That was right after I gave her a bigger raise than all the other assistants got.”
Wait—this is the best assistant ever? Imagine the worst one! Why did Leah call her “the best”? “Well, she is a very nice person, eager and pleasant to be around” was the answer. Suppliers and customers might have a different description. “Really, she tries very hard, and I think eventually she’ll learn more about dealing with people,” Leah said. “The other assistants have been there longer and don’t show as much promise.”
I wanted to double over in pain. Leah’s view of her “best assistant” said as much about her as it did the person she needed to terminate. This was not an unpaid summer intern absorbing life lessons about the workplace, but an employee drawing a regular paycheck—with a recent raise. Imagine how many suppliers have soured on Leah’s company, or what her former customers say, thanks to her “best assistant.” What about the other assistants—the “internal customers”— who see someone fumbling the job and being rewarded. Think they’ll embrace a serious work ethic, or start dissing the vendors?
If the customer is always, or often, right, how about those customers closest to home, the employees? They’re the most obvious selling point for any business. Keeping them in the loop, showing how pleased you are by their effort, reinforces pride and ensures they’ll do it right. And their positive attitude will attract and bring home those paying customers.
What kinds of behavior are rewarded in your organization?