The Law of "Consequences"
July 14, 2006
It is an immutable law of physics: "For every action there is a reaction." Or at least there should be. When we deal with both our children and our employees we often ignore this principle of "consequences." The result? Spoiled, sullen kids and marginal, bad-attitude employees. Who bears the blame? We do...by permitting wrong actions to continue without an appropriate reaction on our part.
So what should the consequences be if one of your workers persists in a negative, self-destructive course of conduct? You may be stuck with your children but you should never put up with loser employees. Your reaction to their consistently bad actions should be to remove them from your company. Here are seven reasons why it is so very important to lose a bad employee (before you impulsively fire anyone, be sure to review my introspective Eight Tough Questions from last month's column, "Moving Them on Out." Be sure to ask these questions about your management practices before you drop the ax!)
The "Bad Apple" syndrome. You search and search for the perfect employee. Finally, you find a real gem. The first day of work they're freshly scrubbed and eager to begin an exciting new career. But remember, only a few hours with a negative, cynical "curmudgeon" employee can kill much of your new hire's joy and diminish their chances of staying with you long term.
Business is supposed to be fun! Life is too short to put up with bad employees. Find people that you look forward to seeing every morning. If you are dreading coming to work or find yourself avoiding a certain employee it is time to analyze why...and then take the appropriate action.
Your business is a reflection of you. Are you proud of each and every employee working for you? If not, why not? Don't just look for "carpet-cleaner-type" employees. Instead, find people that have the same ethics and values that you do. Your customers will feel better about having your people in their home and you will feel great about what you have created.
Better to do it sooner than later. The principle of "Tough Love" doesn't just work with your kids. Sometimes the best action for your non-performing employee is to let them re-start their working life with a different company. I've actually had an employee that I fired (was he ever mad when I terminated his services!) come up to me several months later and thank me for "having helped turn my life around."
What do you owe your family? Sometimes we get our priorities mixed up. As a caring employer you may worry about how a worker you let go will provide for his or her family. But think about it. A smart man once told me, "Steve, all we have to sell is our people." Truer words were never spoken. So if your misguided compassion is restraining you from firing a loser employee, just ask yourself, "Is this individual worth more than my family's future economic security?" When you allow marginal employees to stay working in your client's homes, you are risking everything. If you doubt me, just consider the next question...
What do you owe your customers? I don't want to get all mushy here, but your clients are trusting you with their homes, their possessions and, yes, even their lives. So take a good look at each and every one of your people. Even better, ask yourself this question, "Would I feel good about my wife being alone in my home while this employee is cleaning my carpets?" If you can't give a resounding yes to this question, why are you inflicting this dubious individual on your unsuspecting customers? (If you doubt that the personal safety issue is a big one, think about this: one of the largest carpet-cleaning franchises in the world makes their promise to run background checks on all of their employees a central part of their marketing.)
While the moral and ethical considerations are paramount of putting a marginal and/or possibly dangerous technician into your client's homes, also reflect on the legal and financial exposure you face. In the cases of crimes and assaults on the part of carpet cleaners against homeowners the courts have repeatedly ruled against the cleaning company. How can you protect yourself?
1. To the degree possible, perform conscientious background checks. Yes, it costs more money to screen your top job applicants. But the peace of mind, not too mention avoiding future legal problems, makes this an essential cost of doing business. If you doubt me, just read the following from an ICS news dispatch dated 11/20/2000:
"In a 9-3 decision, a civil jury has decided that America's Best Carpet Care must pay $9.4 million in damages to the widower of an Oakland, Calif. pediatrician who was stabbed to death by the company's contractor.
America's Best Carpet Care must pay economic and non-economic damages for the May 5, 1998, slaying of Kerry Spooner-Dean. On Nov. 7, the Alameda County Superior Court jury found the company negligent for not properly screening Jerrol Glenn Woods of Vallejo, Calif., who it was discovered after the unfortunate incident, had a felonious and violent record, before sending him to Spooner-Dean's home."
I rest my case. And for even more frightening reading, go to www.sueweavercause.org/other_victims.html. This is the website of CAUSE, Consumer Awareness of Unsafe Service Employment. This foundation was started in memory of Sue Weaver, a 52-year-old artist who was raped and beaten to death in her home, which was then set on fire to destroy the evidence. Her killer, Jeffrey Hefling, was a twice-convicted sex offender that had been hired six months prior to clean her air ducts. The Web site contains a long list of assaults, rapes and murders committed by in-home service personnel, including several carpet cleaners, with documented violent pasts.
2. If an employee (or a subcontractor) shows consistent problems with self-control and anger management, (even if they have a clean criminal record up till now) dismiss them immediately.
3. Have clearly defined customer contact standards written out in an Employee Handbook. This should include a legally approved sexual harassment policy that applies with fellow workers and customers. Your Employee Handbook should also define your Zero Tolerance policy on theft and dishonesty, both for cases against the company and the homeowner.
4. Enforce a culture of "the customer is sacred." This means no gossip, no cursing and no lewd, suggestive talk about any client. Come to think of it, this sounds like a good company atmosphere to promote with everyone!
Do it for yourself- After all, you deserve your weekends back! Think about it. How many of your weekends have been adversely affected by you sub-consciously fretting about a marginal employee? Meanwhile, is this loser person worrying about you? Of course not! In fact, they aren't even worried about themselves. They are happily engaged in abusing their body with various substances while you sit there worrying over whether they will show up for work on Monday!
There is an old saying, "When you are more worried about the employee's welfare than they are, it is time to say goodbye!" If this sad scenario is happening in your company, do say goodbye. It will be the best thing that has happened to you in a long time...and you very likely will be doing your struggling employee a favor!