“The world is so beautiful, but alas! There are so many assholes.”
You won’t get through your career without working with some truly terrible people. How they get into organizations is a topic for another episode, but in this episode, we dive into their impact on team dynamics, how to survive working beside them, and what to do if you are their manager.
- How to deal with a bully at work
- Your responsibility when you become the manager of a bad apple
- How bullies and jerks survive in organizations
- The most dangerous person in any company
- How to tell someone that they are not working out
- How your team grows when you fire a bad apple
- Ian’s one piece of advice all new managers ignore (and regret not taking)
- Why no person is too important to live without
- How to manage the aftermath of a termination
- How your team feels about you when you won’t fire a jerk
- Why bad situations won’t work themselves out on their own
Watch the episode here:
Listen to the podcast here:
Working With Bad Apples
Our Take On How To Deal With Bullies, Cheats, And A-Holes As Peers And Managers
Frankie, how are you doing?
I’m good. How are you?
How is it going?
I’m doing good.
What are you talking about? We’re talking about a subject. You and I have talked about more than any five subjects combined in business over the years. We’re talking about assholes. We’re talking about bad apples, bad seeds, problems on teams, what managers get right and what they get wrong. When we get right and wrong and how are these people allowed to hang around companies as long as they are? Why does that dynamic happen? What does it do to a team when it’s left unchecked? That’s what we want to get into for a manager who’s dealing with a team that has more potential but it has one person who’s a poison or dragging it down.
That’s the subject of what we’re going to get into a little bit. I’m going to start quick with my first experience out of college. The first job that I did, Frank, I was a sales rep in Chicago and there was a more seasoned sales rep. I was the second person brought in. I was brought in to help expand the territory. It was built where we were supposed to share the accounts. Every time I cold-called on a new account, this guy would make up some story that that was his old account. He knew the people from way back and I believed it for months. I’d be like, “I’m sorry. I didn’t know that Nestle was your account.”
He’d be like, “That’s okay. I’m good friends with,” and I would see him go behind me, look up who I had called on and make it up. It got to a point where I didn’t believe and trust him. He was doing nothing to help me. He wanted me to fail because he didn’t want a second sales rep. When I would call on new accounts, I would say, “Do you know Holger Peterson?” I would say that every time. If they said, “No, I never heard of him,” then I’ll make it up. He’d be like, “Yes, he’s a great guy. He’s been there for a few years and I would have to start calling him.”
I’m like, “I asked them and they said they’ve never heard of you ever.” It got to a point where there was so much friction because he went out of his way to make me fail. He was good. He could sell, he could have been such an ally to our manager but he was so selfish in himself that he was destroying the fabric of the team underneath it. Our manager didn’t see 80% of what he was doing. It impeded my progress for the first year I was in that territory. For a lesser person that would have sat back and not push back on it. Someone else would have left and quit the team. What good would that have been? I had an experience with the first pier I had on the first team I had right out of college that was as bad as it could be. It’s stayed with me as a lesson my whole career.
For anyone, the two of us are athletes. We’re finally tuned physical beings. You go through high school, you go through college. You’ve got tons of buddies from your frat, you’ve got all your boys from your football team and baseball team as a kid, how different was that for you dealing with someone who was there to fuck you and not help you because confronting that for the first time is a new experience.
What’s a little different in business than a sports team, let’s say a baseball team. If a baseball team is tight and there’s a good player who’s selfish and a jerk, most teams will self-regulate. They’ll shut that person out. If not outright, confront the person. Physically, if necessary, issue a code red. If you’ve been on a football team or hockey teams, I’ve been on baseball, normally, a team with enough personality and enough confidence are going to go deal with the problem without the coach ever having to do anything about it because the team sees that the behavior is killing the team and they’ll go deal with that guy, whatever means necessary.
A quick aside there. In high school football, our best player is an offensive tackle. He’s the only kid on our team to play D1. He was a dick. He used to pick on everybody. One day, this kid Griffis came charging after him. We all had our helmets off with his helmet on his hand, swung it and it hit the kid in the head. That’s the type of pugilist justice that you can have on a sports team that sadly you can’t do in business.
Even take a college project that you’re on. Everyone has been in a college group where there are five kids and one of them misses every meeting and does no work but the other four needs to get a good grade so they carry the fifth. What I’ve found in most cases, the four will go tell the teacher at some point. They would say like, “We’re either going to do some work or word-outing you that you’ve done nothing on any of this.”
A lot of college professors will even have a big part in the individual’s grade. Be the rating from the rest of your peers on the project. If there’s a five-person college project, there was always one lazy ass kid that didn’t want to do any work and it would drive the other four nuts. There was always that vigilante justice I thought that the other four would go deal with the fifth. In whatever means necessary, they would deal with it. Whereas in business, it’s much harder to go do something about it. Especially if your manager is not on board, there are no repercussions.
We’re going to progress here through this show. For this episode, we’re going to talk a little bit about entry-level to being a business owner and looking at it from different perspectives. Why don’t we talk about specifically, what did you do in that situation? By doing it, what did that give your manager the ability to do to confront this person? My guess is you’re going to land at the same place I’m going with this. If you were going to coach kids or younger than we are at the moment, what can you do every day where it neutralizes this without physically confronting a peer?
It messed with my mind for a while because he was more experienced than me. I was young and he was trying to get over on me at every chance he could. Over time, I realized if I keep letting this happen, I’m not going to have a job. I’m not going to ever sell anything nor get anything done. I needed to sell some things on my own and get that confidence. When I wasn’t selling, I put up with it and got bullied. He was a great salesman. He was banging out sales all the time. Going to my manager four months in and crying, I had no sales and I had nothing to show and here’s his best salesperson who’s killing it and making the manager’s year, for the most part, I sound a whiner at that point so I had to get some results on my own before I pushed back.
That was going to be my take on this. We both had great success in our careers especially in our corporate careers. You and I never talked about this but when I showed up at NDR, I had a target on my back. I was this kid coming from Florida. Nobody knew who I was but I knew what I was talking about because I had a major and an upbringing that was similar to the job. I knew stuff when I showed up on day one where they usually hired English majors and Business majors so people would be targeting me. My mid-level managers, the people that rang above me were the ones who were the most threatened.
What I learned was to block that out and perform. You can’t bitch and you can’t do any of that stuff up front, you need to get your footing and don’t let it bother you. Where I was going to go in with this question is what happens over time is you shine in a way that your manager can’t ignore. What happens is that salesman who’s a prick or that other guy who’s blocking you, people realize you’re magnanimous and you’re better. Opportunity starts to fall in your lap because you blocked out the bullshit and a good manager knows that that guy is pricking and he’s blocking you and they giggle with you like, “How was that?” A not so good manager won’t see it but someone above that person is a better manager and they’re going to be like, “No, that guy, Ian, is a performer. Frank is a performer. The other people aren’t.” That’s been my experience. Go do the job and be irreplaceable. If you do that, the jerks lose power.
That’s well said. It’s hard when you’re in that moment and you’re not getting results. You feel like it’s unfair that someone in your team doing something unfair, until you go deliver or put some numbers up some results, no one’s going to care. What I had to do is block them out. I had to ignore him. I didn’t respond to his emails. I didn’t talk to him much in the office. I made sure to cover my tracks when I needed to. It was a lot of wasted energy and time. As soon as I started getting results and I ended up building a better relationship with my boss, you’ve met Connor. I built a good relationship with him but I didn’t build a good relationship with him because I was a buddy-buddy and we both liked baseball. He liked me because I started producing results like the other guy. I was growing up, I was putting numbers up and he saw that I was doing it the right way. I was going out of my way to help the team.
I would go to other cities, show them things I was doing. I’d lead things on calls. I wasn’t political like the other guy. I did it right. I built a reputation where I had as much of a voice as not more than the other person. Long story short, I became that person’s boss. I was promoted three years after I started as a sales manager. The guy who’s trying to block me early, who I knew was a snake, he was now reporting to me and he couldn’t have changed more because he knew I knew every one of his dirty secrets and what he was going to do to other people. I made sure to cut him off at the knees that couldn’t happen. He couldn’t do the same little tricks. He couldn’t snow me like he snowed his manager before and other people around the office because I’d seen his tricks. I did my job and I didn’t have the same results as him. I was promoted. I didn’t sell more than he. He had more volume than me and more revenue but I grew mine more and I was a leader in how I did it. That’s how I ended up being his boss.
I was walking job sites with Dylan, my nephew, my family is in town and Dylan is fourteen. He’s my little buddy. we get in the car and he looks at me and goes, “Uncle Frank, you know a lot.” I didn’t use to know shit but all the things that we’re talking about, you got to learn. If you have a memory, you store it and you take away a lot of the crap. When you start to realize it as your career builds, the only way you can do it is do it. Start, do it, chunk away, shut your mouth, take the crap, keep moving and then don’t forget the lessons.If you don't deal with assholes, your life as a manager goes to hell. Click To Tweet
Realize the stuff you’ve lived through. Other people were probably living through it too have empathy and have your eyes open. That’s what takes you from being someone decent to someone who can be great. If your goal is to run a business, you got to do that stuff. If your goal is to move up the corporate ladder, you got to do it. Ian and I have both flown up corporate ladders. Ian with two companies who needed one but we joked that we both had a lot of lateral promotions.
That’s meant for you. It’s mainly you with lateral. I was always up.
That’s the dynamic of our relationship. Ian can’t see well of it, either I. To that end, those are the little things you start to learn. You realize, “This guy is a snake, I got to work,” but then you start to see it as an empathetic manager. You didn’t let him get away with it. You become his manager, how do you manage around that for that team? How do you make sure he’s not doing it to others?
I didn’t have this confidence with any of my other direct reports except this guy when I started. I had such a problem with this guy and I was irritated by him. He was a villain in my mind for three years and then I get promoted and he’s the first guy in my office. “I’m glad. I want you to know I was a big advocate for this promotion. I told Bob that you were the guy.” It’s all bullshit. I was the last guy he wanted. He knew I knew all of his dirty secrets. I knew this is the way this guy operated. Now that I’m the boss, he’s trying to snow me. I didn’t have this confidence with any of my other ten direct reports in the first one.
I looked at this guy and I was like, “For three years, you tried to pull one over me. You stole accounts from me. You lied about accounts to our boss. You lied about things I was doing. I’m not forgetting any of that. You’re not going to pull any of that shit while I’m your boss on anybody. If you do, I’m going to find someone that can replace you because I know your results are replaceable. I know your accounts. If I’d have had your accounts, I’d have got the same results.” I was blunt in his face that, “You’re changing or I’m going to find someone else.” I didn’t have that confidence with anyone else but him because I had so much animosity built up towards him. Honestly, he was not a problem for me. He didn’t say much then, he didn’t argue with me, he nodded but right out of the gate, I looked him in the eyes and said, “You’re on such a short leash. It’s outrageous. Don’t try to snow me.”
You had the ability to confront him. I didn’t. Doing a timeline here, you’re 25 or26 and you literally confronted this person. The way my career worked is by 25 or 26, I’ve been promoted but I was moved to a different division so I had different enemies. I didn’t have the ability to do what you did. What is important for people to realize is this. You need to shut your mouth at first when you start a job, you can’t be the one that complaints you’re never to get promoted. It might not line up the way it did for Ian and it didn’t line up that way for me. At 25 to 45, I handle these things differently. Angelo and I had a conversation. Angelo is my number two. He’s incredible.
He and I are having a conversation about a subcontractor we work with. The manager lets the people on staff get away with murder. He said to me, “You don’t let people get away with that.” We perform better. The guy is making excuse after excuse but you’ve got to eventually be able to confront it. You can’t do it too soon but you could set yourself on the wrong course. If you earn the ability to confront then you can confront. You had the same guy that you could confront, for me, it came later. It came in my low 30s when I can be close the door, bring you in, talk one-on-one to be like, “You and I both know what you’re doing and it’s not better for the team. Before I expose you, you’ve got to fix this. If you don’t and you don’t want to, it’s fine. We’ll find someone else.”
It’s the same conversation you had. “You’re sitting on a gold mine over there in that community or on that account, I can find a monkey who can do it and people are going to like the monkey a hell of a lot more than you.” That comes with a shit load of experience. Think about how your chest pounded and how scared you were to give that feedback the first time like, “I’m not going to get punched. Are they going to call my boss? They’re going to find me out as being a fraud.” All of these things go through your brain when you’re having that conversation for the first time.
My biggest weakness as a new manager was not dealing with assholes. My bigger issue was the person who couldn’t perform but they were trying their hardest. They had a big heart, they cared, they were the wrong person for the wrong role. That’s the person that I’ve screwed up on over and over. This is ego. It was, “I can help them, I can fix them and I can make them better.” Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses and that’s a weakness of mine. It’s the person I know who is working hard. When I took over that team, there were all kinds of different people. There were several that when I came into that role, I thought were the nicest people in the world.
I knew that they had no chance of ever being good in the job because I’d watch for three years as a peer. I knew they were the wrong people for that job and I did nothing about it. I tried and worked my butt off. A strength of mine has always been knowing the snakes and confronting them quickly. That’s me personally. There’s another guy. He was an Iowa and this guy talk trash about our boss every chance he could get. He was the guy who’d be on a conference call and he’d be like, “That sounds good. We’re out here working.” When the boss wasn’t around, he’d be like, “These budgets are bullshit. He doesn’t know anything about our business. What value does he add?”
You knew once you’re the boss that this is what this guy is going to do to me. I didn’t trust him right out of the gate. I didn’t like him. I made life miserable on him until he left. I got him out of the business because, “I knew exactly what you did to the last boss. You’re going to do it to me. I don’t trust anything you say.” For me, it always came a little more naturally. What didn’t come naturally is cutting ties with someone who had every behavior that you could ever ask of the company and had zero ideas on how to get results. That one was hard for me.
That’s not the asshole, that’s the opposite of the asshole. It’s proven to discuss here. That moment for me, when I learned that I had to fire people I liked, came in 2006. I was in homebuilding. The market was melting down. I got promoted. I was running a division of 75 people. Sixty days after I got promoted to run this division, I got to go fire 75% of that group. You and I have never talked about this but this is something we have that’s similar. Your mom was a school teacher who became a principal. My mom is the kindest elementary school teacher you’ve ever met. Both of us are reared in that environment. Both of us are in the environment of, “I will take chicken shit and turn it into chicken salad.”
That’s ego. When a market shit happens or something bad goes on around you and you realize, “I can’t do that. I can’t keep making excuses for these people.” There’s a moment of preservation that comes in. One of my realtor contact friends goes, “Preservation is undefeated.” I was 31 or 32 and for the first time, I remember being like, “If I don’t fire those people and make my team better, they’re going to fire me.” That’s a light bulb moment. Sadly, you and I have both rift hundreds of people.
I rift a bunch of people in my business when Coronavirus hit. It’s real. You have to do it. The easiest conversation is this one. You and I both know this isn’t working. If it is, they’re going to know. Everyone is scared like, “How am I going to pay for dinner? How am I going to pay my mortgage?” I’ve had that conversation a couple of dozen times. It doesn’t fit all ways but that person that you liked as a manager and you have to let go because they don’t have the skillset, they’ve realized it. It’s a relief.
You never have that conversation out of the blue unless you’re a lousy, crappy manager and you’re that scared to ever look someone in the eyes. By the time you do that, you’ve talked to them about their performance 100 times. Little things that, “You’re late again on this deadline. I can’t have customers keep calling me.” Some of them are soft but you’re bringing it up. Some of them are, “This is four months in a row. You’ve not hit your target. You have to get better.” By the time you get to the one you said of you and I both know this isn’t working, there’s been many lead-up conversations. You’re in essence saying, “You’re going to be happier somewhere else. You can’t enjoy talking to me about your performance every day.”
It’s the exact same process in sales. There’s a lot of opens and there’s a lot of small closes before the big close. It’s the same way with this. The goal here is like, “Let’s talk about assholes.” Neither of us married our wives on our first date. That’s not the way it works. All of this stuff is progressive. It’s got to have step-by-step. When you’re going down that road, it’s the little conversations and feedbacks. In specifically in dealing with an asshole, you got to earn the ability to confront it. When the time is right, you got to confront it. You and I have dealt with this as entry-level people with peers or a manager 1 or 2 steps above us.
There are a lot of blockers who will deal with that stuff. When I was a project manager, I had a costing manager and a production manager, both over the top of me when I was at Ryan. They were dicks. They were doing everything they could to work against me. They’d thought I was coming for their jobs and they were right. I got the job but you got to weather the storm and earn the skill. When someone is above you, you’ve got to be able to shut your mouth and get around it. When they become peers with you, you could become a little bit more vocal. When you become their boss then you can have the conversation you had with that sales rep of you closed the door and you do it privately.
Some people were formed and a lot of people aren’t. That’s the stuff. If you don’t deal with this stuff, your life as a manager goes to hell. This is the piece of advice you gave me when I became a division manager. I was a vice president. I’m in charge of a profit center and you’re like, “Go fire somebody.” You came from GE. That was the GE way. The Ryan way, I didn’t think I could do that and I didn’t. It perpetuated for a while. If you can do that and show that you are the boss when you are in that role then when you go slap somebody on the wrist, they know you’re not screwing around because you’ve already done it.
When you did finally fire someone when you were in that division vice president role, did you feel a change in the way the team looked at you or communicated with you after that happened?
The first one no but when I let someone go who was this asshole, yes. You often have this asshole performer. They’re like, “We can’t live without that person.” What you do is you lock their head off. Are you with good day one? No. Is there continuity? Does the team rally together? You and I were talking about sports analogies. That’s like the Bryce Harper example. They lost the best player on the team but the collective was way better. They go out and win a World Championship without him. That happens a lot on teams.As a good leader, don't miss the opportunity to reset the frame. Click To Tweet
In sports, you always hear the term next man up. If you’ve done the right thing in your business, you get rid of that problem, you get them out of the way, there’s an adjustment period but then if you’re a good manager, you got 2, 3 or 4 people you can lean on and you have individual conversations. You say, “That person is now gone because I believe in you. I think you’ve got the skill, you’re sitting on something and you’re not looking at your full potential, you can grow and you can be more, I want you to step up and lead.” The cool thing is you can have that conversation with more than one person. That is a conversation I had in 3 or 4 models with sales reps but I see so much out of you. One or two of them get it. One or two of them stayed about where they were but that happens.
In my first management job, I interviewed a vice-president. Someone 2 or 3 levels up from me in our corporate office in Connecticut at GE. At the end of the interview, it was clear that he lied to me and I was getting this job. I said, “What’s a mistake you made right out of the gate as a new manager?” For this guy, it was 30 years ago when he was a new manager. He had a gray hair even in this job. He worked with Jack Welch for twenty years already. He’s a good manager. He’s a good executive. He was like, “I’m going to give you the same advice I give everyone.”
It’s the same advice I gave you, Frank. He said, “Let me ask you a question. You’re going to be managing your peers, right?” I said yes. He said, “Is there someone on your team that you know isn’t going to make it? They’re not suited for the job. They’re not performing and they’ll never perform because you’ve seen them for three years.” I said yes. I was nervous because I thought he was going to put me on the spot and say, “What’s his name?” He was like, “Calm down. I don’t want to know his name. I’m telling you, help that guy find a better opportunity than what GE has to offer for his background and skillset. Help him find something else and do it quickly.”
He didn’t say run out and fire the guy, shoot him. He said, “That guy is not happy. You’re not going to be happy with him. Don’t try to fix anything, just say goodbye.” I didn’t take his advice. He told me I wouldn’t take his advice. For a year, I tried to fix this guy. I spent all my time in his territory and he got 10% better but he was still failing. I didn’t do what I was told to do. I paid for it. It got to a place where I wasn’t performing as a manager because I wasn’t dealing with something. That guy wasn’t a jerk. What I’ve learned over time is to go fire the jerk on the team as fast as you can even if they have results. Every manager should have certain non-negotiable behaviors that they expect from every employee.
On most teams that have been left unchecked with a soft manager, there’s someone who’s getting results who exhibits none of those behaviors that you expect. When you let that person keep defiling and following up on what you say you expect from people and the culture of your company because you’re selling out to get results, you tell your team that those behaviors are not that important because as long as you get results, you’re cool. Those people end up feeling protected and they become more of a bully, jerk and A-hole. Until you do something about it, you’re not in charge, they are. Do you want to jump in and add to why it’s important to fire the bad apple rather than the person who’s trying hard and not getting results?
I agree with you completely. What I’ve learned over time is that both of those people need to go but the asshole needs to go first especially if you’re a new manager. Let’s say you had a time machine, you’re back around and you had that salesman that you could’ve let go and I’ve had the same experience. That person who blocked you, other people pay attention to that. It makes an enormous statement as a manager when you let that person go especially if that person is a producer. We’ve dealt with that multiple times. We dealt with it in business. Working in NVR, I’ve dealt with it in multiple roles there. I’ve dealt with it in my business with small people who have a lot of leverage over you.
That’s hard to do but it makes an enormous impact. I want to talk about something else. You walk in, you’ve locked that person’s head off. This is what happens if you’ve got the right people on the bus. You can go have the one-on-one conversations with, “I need you to raise your game a little bit,” but what happens invariably if you’ve got the right team built or the right culture is people come to you and say, “Frank and Ian, I know you let go of so-and-so, I’m ready to step up.” That happens a lot. That’s when you know you built something cool. You can do this as a manager managing a segment of the business as a section of the business. You can do it as a small business owner. Those are cool things because people know that, “We had a producer, they don’t fit but this gives me a chance.”
The sooner you can do that stuff, the better off you are. I can tell you this, living through it sometimes sucks. I fired a business partner. I have leverage over my own business because it was a minority partner. I had to fire that person. That was brutal for four months. Life is much better. You got to deal with it. The person was the wrong cultural fit. He had the wrong temperament for the job. He wasn’t necessarily an asshole but you do that stuff, err us pain sometimes. On the other side of it’s much better.
This specific person sends such a message about your character as a leader when you deal with this. Do you remember when I came into NVR, the mortgage company was largely broken but the most important pieces that were broken that our CEO brought me in for was customer service was a joke. People didn’t care about customers. Teamwork was awful. It was disjointed. No one talked with each other. There were silos everywhere. The CEO was asking me to fix this. As I come into a new region when I moved out to DC, I’m preaching the gospel of the CEO that brought me in.
I’m preaching customer service, teamwork and all of these things. There was an ops manager who was good. She’d been there for ten years. This was in Fairfax. She was protective of her team. Anything I would ask of everyone to do, sales or operations, I would ask everyone to do it. She would take it as, “That’s sales fault and that’s not our problem,” everything. I addressed it with her a few times like, “I’m not pointing fingers. I’m saying we, as a team, need to get better at this.” She could not get over it. She tried to derail everything. The other managers were onboard but she felt protected because she’d been there a long time and she did have strong vocational chops.
Her team did like her quite a bit. They liked her because she was mother hands. She protected everybody but she was miserable with the concept of teamwork and ultimately customer service. In a homebuilder, you can’t get all the different components talking together and working well together. The service is broken. I addressed it a few times but 4 or 5 months in, I finally set it out and I said, “We’re splitting offices and I’m moving you completely away from your team. If you don’t like it, you can give me your notice. Honestly, I don’t care.” I was fed up within four months in and right there on the spot she gave her notice and we didn’t blink.
We got better immediately after that. She, in her mind, had created this narrative that, “This company can’t live without me,” which is ludicrous. There were 600 people in our company. Any company always moves on from any employee but that was the biggest move I could have made. It’s telling her team, “She’s been undermining me at every step, we’re moving on and you all need to understand why she’s gone.” I made sure to clearly tell them, “This is why I made this decision. You need to get on board with this new concept of what we’re doing.” Some of them left. Some of them said, “We don’t want to be here. If she’s not here, we’re gone.” The truth was I didn’t care. Get on board. This is what we’re trying to do. This is a new culture. You’re either with us or you’re against us. Some people want to be there.
There are two critical things that we need to talk about here. First of all, when you do that first thing, I’ll use an example of skydiving. You jump out of the plane and you don’t know if you’re going to fucking make it or not. You pull the ripcord and you’re like, “At a minimum, I’m going to live. If I crash into the earth, I’m going to crash into a way where I’m going to a wheelchair, drinking my meals through a straw but I’m going to live.” You touch base with the ground in a comfortable way and you’re like, “I made it.” That’s what firing that person feels like. You’ve never done this before, you got to think about that. It’s like, “Am I going to live? Am I going to look like my former self or not?” When you realize you’re going to do it, it gives you the confidence to do that shit again and faster the next time because of it.
The second thing is this and you said it well. As a good leader, don’t miss the opportunity to reset the frame. Deal with it. This person is no longer with us. Management 101 says, “You never give feedback about an individual to a group.” However, I will be respectful to the now deceased but I want to talk about what wasn’t working and you do it broadly. You don’t point the finger at that person and you say, “This is what was broken. This is what I expect. New leaders will rise through the ashes if you meet these expectations.” These are the types of things good managers do, you don’t miss the opportunity. Some people you’re like, “I wish I could have got off the phone,” whatever. Fucking go get a different job. That’s the moment where you recraft the narrative. If you’re not lazy about it, you start to make something that happens. These are those little pivotal moments that stack on each other. A decade later, it connects the dots and that’s where you’ve got. It’s critical.
That Management 101 advice of don’t talk about the deceased, that makes sense for people that were good culturally and good behavior people. That makes sense for people that were performing and you had to make a decision and they may have dumb mistakes but they’re overall good people. That Management 101 advice of not talking about that HR is going to tell you don’t ever talk about it, with the asshole, that’s the exception. If you were an asshole, you were bad for culture and everyone knew it, you pulled that team together and you say, “I want to make something clear. This was my decision. It was based on the way this person was behaving. I’m not okay with these 3 or 4 things that were happening and it’s going to change.”
Everyone should understand that I made a decision based on a performer because of their behaviors. Your results will not trump bad behaviors and I will list the behaviors that I did not like from that person that left and tough shit if they don’t like it. That’s an opportunity missed if they’re gone and everyone is guessing why are they gone. “What happened? Did something happen behind the scenes?” No. Let me be clear why we’re moving onto the next one,” and that’s it. That’s what that specific niche. I would never do that with someone who was a good person, good behavior and they couldn’t get results. You flower it, you’d be as nice as you can but we’re paying attention like, “Why would you rip that person? They’re a good person.” The team won’t like that.
Let’s talk about what happens when you do that. You take this opportunity, you communicate it and you say, “We’ve excommunicated ourselves from this person for these reasons.” The next piece of dialogue is, “You, as individuals, deserve better. I will provide you with better as a leader. Not only that, if anyone acts this way, it isn’t acceptable but I think so highly of you as a team that that person couldn’t be here because it was degrading and taking away what you do every day. I look at this group and I see a grip.” I’ve had this at my business. I have a group of people who are unified and working together and I have someone who’s fucking selfish and they are working against them. I think too highly of that group to let that challenge in person take away from this continuity.
That’s my way of stating any and I’ve said it more than once but it sets the tone of, “If you become a jerk, we’ll figure it out without you.” At the same time, you breach huge loyalty with your staff when It’s like, “I value you. I value this team. This superstar performer is the wrong fit. You guys can do it without them.” That makes a big difference. That’s something you asked me the first time I did, I didn’t deliver it as well as when I delivered it 90 days ago because I’ve been through it many times.
It’s in the middle, a lot of studies on this of what bad apples do to teams. Something you touched on, it’s not fair to you. That’s what creeps into a team. When someone is allowed to behave outside of the norms that the manager is set, there’s a feeling of unfairness. The team thinks, “This isn’t fair.” Let’s say that person doesn’t work as hard as everyone else, he comes in late all the time, he leaves early and he takes two-hour lunches. To the rest of the team who’s taken a 30-minute lunch and getting there on time every day, they’re thinking, “This isn’t fair.”
It’s the same feeling you have when there are five of you in a college group and one doesn’t do the work. There’s fairness or, “I’m being told I should behave in a certain way as a team. A teammate of mine is a terrible teammate. No one does anything about it. This isn’t fair.” This team gets a feeling of helplessness and that’s the first feeling. Maybe they’ll bring it up to you, maybe they won’t but what they start to think is you’re a weak leader. You say things, it’s all empty, you won’t deal with it and that’s not fair.The most valuable resource any of us has is time. Click To Tweet
There’s no vigilante justice in business. The manager has to deal with some things. It’s not the same as some of the things we were talking about earlier with sports teams and in the military or whatever it is. There’s a feeling of unfairness. When you deliver a message like that, Frank, that’s awesome because you’re saying, “The status quo was not fair to this group. You’re better than this. Here’s why and here’s why I’m moving forward.” The team gets whole new respect for you that you’re willing to sacrifice a little bit of results to make the company better long-term.
You own a small business and you’re wedded to somebody. I got 27 employees. A high-level departure would hurt but a mid-level low-level departure doesn’t hurt as bad because you’re a little bit more insulated. When I had six employees and I had an asshole in a role, it hurts to let that person go. Sometimes, you live with it. Not only do you live with it, you know you’re living with it. Everyone else knows you’re compromising. The reality is you go cut that person and then you’ve cut off your nose and spite your face. Sometimes, you can’t do it. I’ve had this with an office manager someone who ran a segment of the business and with a salesperson and this is where chemistry comes in.
What I mean by chemistry is add and dilute. If you can get to a point where you can have three salespeople then you can hold that asshole accountable. If you have someone who can fill in for that office manager but in some of these instances, it’s hard and you got to take it. My wife has told me years ago when I met versus now, she’s like, “You come home for happier and you’ve got more competent people around you. Sometimes, as a small business owner, you got to deal with it.” It’s slings and arrows.
You have the move power. The smaller the team you have, the slower you have to move to go address a poor hire or someone who’s fallen off the rails because there are not enough hours in the day for you to handle whatever you’ve asked them to take on.
Here’s a manifestation of this. I’ve been in business for many years. My longest-tenured employee is for four years. If you were good enough to work for me in 2015, you are no longer good enough to work here in 2020. It’s the way it is. I couldn’t attract the right people. I couldn’t pay the right people. I didn’t have health benefits. I didn’t have that stuff. Now we do. We get a higher class of employees because of it and now my tolerance is much lower for bullshit because I know that it’s a great place to be but there was that period in the middle. It’s like when you first start a job and you said you’ve got to shut your mouth. It’s one of those things you got to weather as you’re starting off. If you run a small business because you don’t have a bench and HR department. You can’t move as quickly.
If you’re a three-person company and you have a little bit of office based in the same building as Salesforce.com and someone interviews with both of you, who’s winning. You’re not going and luring away that employee from a big well-trusted brand for someone so you compromise a little bit at the beginning versus what you had to work with when you were in a Fortune 500 company. That doesn’t mean it needs to be permanent. It means you’re going to be a little slower in how to deal with it. A lot of those folks didn’t have the bandwidth, Frank, to keep up with what you were doing. Even when you were a three-person company, you did take jerks out of your business because you would rather sacrifice a bunch of revenue. Your name is on it. Your dad’s name is in your company. If you’ve got a real jerk who’s stealing from you or behaving horribly, you got to deal with it because that’s your name. You don’t compromise forever.
You said it the right way. It’s slower. I was over a barrel for a period of time with a couple of malcontents because I didn’t have a bench but if you can build a bench, you can do it. In any aspect of a business, this is relevant, it’s real and you’ve got to deal with it. No matter if you work for companies with 3,000 or 4,000 employees like Ian and I both have, it got more net or if you’ve got a 25-person company or a 5-person company, these things are real and you got to be able to confront it. You might not be able to act as quickly but you need to be able to say, “Why your kid eats sugar at every meal?” It’s not going to age well. You got to deal with it.
For the sake of time to wrap up this specific episode, Frank, I’m going to bring it home with four points that we’ve talked about. One, if you’re a manager, you can’t sell out for performance. If you’re a sales manager and you have ten sales reps, your best sales rep is miserable for your culture and is a bully and bad, you have to suck it up and take that person out and replace them with someone with behaviors. You can’t sell it for money or your team will respect you. Two, you can’t think that the impact of a bad apple is siloed that it’s not impacting the rest of the team. You’ll get less effort from the rest of your team. You’ll get the same behaviors out of the rest of your team. It will infect everything. That bad apple turns into a whole batch of bad apples.
They’re unintended consequences of not dealing with it that are usually worse than lop it off the limb.
Three, you’re telling your team your values as much through action as you are through inaction. Refusing to take action tells your team that you value results and money more than building a good culture and team or it tells them that you’re too weak to deal with confrontation. Either way, that’s not a place you want to be as a manager. Fourth is most new managers struggle with avoidance. I’m going to go focus on other areas of the business and this would get better on itself. Typically, with this individual, there’s zero chance that it’s going to get better in a vacuum. It’s only going to get worse. It’s only going to create more problems. Whether you’re a small company or a big company, if you’re small, you’re going to have to move a little bit slower but you still have to do it. The longer you wait, the bigger the problem is going to snowball and the more it’s going to cost you in the end.
The most valuable resource any of us has is time. Having this asshole on your team costs you valuable time and you can’t do the things that make the business special. You’re wasting time on this crap where if you can get to a point where you can cut it off and move on. It’s addition through subtraction. It’s a huge thing but being empathetic is not easy. We’ve all dealt with it and it’s been scary to confront that person and that’s normal.
The one thing I know for sure, Frank, is you’re not an asshole. You’re a good guy.
Both of us have moments.
I didn’t say I’m not. I’m a total asshole. Somebody should have fired me years ago, they didn’t. They didn’t take the chance. It was good seeing you.
It’s always a pleasure.