From Mark Ford, editor, Creating Wealth: A division of one of the publishing businesses I work with had been in a slump for a long time.
Sales were flat. Profits were slipping. Refunds were up. Testimonials from happy customers were down. Most tellingly, the office was full of grumpy people who didn’t even seem to like one another. You could feel this the moment you entered. Energy was very low. The mood ranged from unpleasant to depressing.
Over the years, my partner and I had tried various half-baked strategies to bring this potentially great business back to life. We had sent in consultants and motivators to analyze the problems, engage people in discussions about them, and generally charge things up. And we each spent several months in residency, working on our own projects, but making ourselves available to anyone who wanted to ask questions.
Two years ago, we had a tough discussion with the CEO. He insisted that the problem was on our side, that we couldn’t understand their corporate culture and were mucking things up by trying to be helpful. So, we agreed to leave him entirely alone, to do nothing for a year, and see if he could “fix” the business without our help.
It didn’t work.
So finally, at the beginning of this year, we did something radical that we have done only once or twice in more than 20 years. We ended our relationship with the CEO, fired a half-dozen of his senior managers, broke the business into two competing parts, and began the process of replacing those who were dismissed.
We did this carefully but quickly. And so far, it looks like it is something we should have done many years ago.
There has been a noticeable improvement in morale. People seem to be happier. They are coming to work earlier and working later. They are offering up ideas and volunteering for new projects.
I’m making a complicated story simple. So it may appear that I’m saying a change in leadership can save any floundering business.
That’s not it.
The point is that sometimes a good employee becomes a bad employee. The badness, like a mite infestation in a garden, starts to spread. And if you want to save the business, you have to get rid of the employees who have already been affected by it.
What went wrong in this case was surely a combination of bad management, bad training, and bad communication. (And we are responsible for that.) The people we fired were smart, talented, and ambitious—at least when we hired them.
But once they went bad, like mite-infested plants in a garden, they had to go.
(Reeves’ Note: All paid PBRG subscribers can read the full May issue of Creating Wealth, for free, right here.)