Dealing with Hostage Situations in Business

Article by:
Ben Ridler, EO New Zealand
Ben Ridler
EO New Zealand

Ben is the Managing Director of The Results Group, a business-coaching company focused on mid-sized firms. Their vision is to be the global benchmark for business-coaching companies. Contact Ben via e-mail at [email protected].

One of the first lessons I learned about business is the importance of hiring slow and firing fast. When it comes down to it, creating a winning organization is all about employing the right people and knowing when to cut the bad ones loose. As Managing Director of The Results Group, New Zealand’s leading provider of business coaching, I have had to deal with my share of firings.

In my business circle, I have been confronted by employees who are in constant struggle with their senior staff. However, because these difficult people are seen as key players, the employees have bent backward for them and put up with their shenanigans. In my experience, doing this sends a message to the rest of the team that the company’s values and vision aren’t that important, and even worse, that they can be compromised. Over time, this will kill a company, culturally and financially.

Usually the simplest solution is the best. In most of these cases, I have found that the best thing to do is let the difficult employee go and have another go at hiring the right person, methodically and carefully— one who fits both the skill and values required. In my company, no one is irreplaceable, and our values and vision must come first if we want to have a future. Ultimately, I have to protect my company’s infrastructure if I want it to survive in a competitive industry.

We recently had a situation in one of our offices where a coach who had been a top performer had stopped learning, attending training days, etc. He felt his MBA, accounting degree and coaching qualifications meant he was already good enough. Of course, this type of stagnation was completely contrary to our values. Eventually, his complacency affected my company’s retention numbers.

After a couple of meetings, I decided that this employee was no longer a good fit in my company. It became clear to me that we were holding him hostage, and it was time to let him go. After all, why keep a square peg in a round hole? Several members of my team didn’t agree with my decision. They were concerned about the negative financial impact, as they knew the high regard that other coaches had for his abilities. I listened to my gut and fired him anyway. While we did lose revenue and clients, I was eventually able to right the ship.

Today, the difference in that office is huge. There’s a completely different culture, and the atmosphere has been invigorated. The engagement of those employees who stayed has a whole new intensity. The understanding that we are serious about the company’s values has been completely revitalized and performance is now far ahead of previous levels. Thankfully, my decision to weed out the lethargy proved successful. In the end, I’ve learned that it’s important to fire fast, hire slow, and if you need to, free a hostage or two along the way… just to show you mean business.

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