If you can’t love us, then leave us

Written by Cumulo Nimbus

Did you ever have an employee who just didn’t fit?

Don’t turn the page — I saw that guilty grimace. If you want to learn about dealing with fish-out-of-water employees, read on. If you’ve already mastered this topic, please e-mail me — I have your application for the Business Hall of Fame.

It all started at the weekly marketing meeting — our first in six months. There was Wanda, our ever-aggressive general manager; Scanelli, our veteran director of client partnerships; and Jane Dough, our quiet and shy director of marketing.

I took a gamble appointing Jane to that position. She had no experience, but she was eager for the challenge, and we were eager to find someone eager. She turned out to be conscientious and hard-working, but — well, isn’t there always a “but”?

At this meeting, Wanda and Scanelli were tearing Jane apart. “I promised Boeing more co-op advertising this quarter,” said Scanelli. “Why aren’t we participating in Q-Mart’s Scratch ‘n’ Save promotion?” asked Wanda. “When I ran this meeting, we always had the latest customer satisfaction results,” Scanelli complained. “When I was in charge,” added Wanda, “we always had bottled water and candy.”

They weren’t really picking on Jane; tough love is our hallmark at Nimbus Co. It dates back to my first day as president, when Wanda told me my tie was stained and Scanelli said I wasn’t the man my father was. I learned to take it. Besides, my people aren’t always so negative. Just a few months ago, Scanelli told me I’m half the man my father was.

Still, Jane was flustered as she responded to their comments. “We diverted funds from co-op to events,” she explained. “We opted out of ‘Scratch ‘n’ Save’ this year when it was replaced by ‘Itch ‘n’ Grow Rich.’ And I posted the survey results on our intranet two weeks ago — just before Kernel broke it.”

Jane went on to propose some good new marketing initiatives, but she presented them without confidence. Wanda knocked them down like King Kong swatting biplanes.

After the meeting, Jane stopped by my office. Putting down my Decisions for Dummies book, I heard her out. “I don’t see why everything at Nimbus has to be so negative,” she complained. “I’d like some positive reinforcement now and then.”

This was one of those Special Leadership Moments that are sent to plague us. So, I resolved to be tough. “When you joined management, I told you it wouldn’t be easy,” I said. “We have a special culture here, and it takes a thick skin to succeed. You have to stand up to criticism and give a little back.”

“Your ‘special culture’ is a circus,” replied Jane. “I shouldn’t have to act like a jerk just because other people do.”

“I do it all the time,” I said. “Er, let me start again. The management team plays a big role in our success, and I’m not going to change how they work because one person doesn’t like it.” “You won’t — or you can’t?” Jane asked defiantly. “Both,” I said, folding my arms across my chest and trying to look decisive. (I was about to say “presidential,” but the word doesn’t carry the weight it used to.)

Secretly, I sympathized with Jane. Wanda and Scanelli could scare a hive of killer bees — maybe even Buzz Hargrove. But if Jane couldn’t adapt, I’d find someone who could.

I found out later that Jane spent a sleepless night wondering what to do. Her husband, Hassan, who used to work with Jane on our loading dock, told her not to worry: if worse came to worst, she could always come work for his company.

I think that did it. At the next management meeting, Jane presented Wanda with a full page of complaints regarding long overdue maintenance issues, and annoyed Scanelli by recommending key performance indicators for everyone with dotted-line responsibilities. Luckily, we ran out of time before Jane could table her seven “CEO accountability questions.”

“I think you’ve earned some breathing room at the next marketing meeting,” I congratulated Jane afterward. “I sure hope so,” she said. “Being tough is tough work.” I told her we’d help by sending her to a Dealing with Difficult People seminar. “Better wait and see,” Jane said. “Before long, Wanda and Scanelli may be begging to take that course.”

As Jane skipped down the hall, she seemed to have solved her confidence crisis. But I couldn’t help thinking of that old management proverb: be careful what you wish for.

© 2006 Cumulo Nimbus

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com