Your Employees Are More Valuable Resources Than You May Think. Use Them.
by C.S. Clarke, Ph.D.
I heard this story from a client. Names have be changed to protect the innocent.
Once upon a time there was a small business owner who was going through some tough times. The business was in trouble -- it wasn't earning enough to support the size of his staff. But most of the employees had been with him for many years. Some had been with him from the beginning of his business and were directly responsible for much of his past success. Moreover, all of his staff were very good employees and some he considered critical to continued operations. He couldn't afford to keep them all, yet he couldn't bring himself to let anyone go.
He became negative, complaining, blaming. He withdrew from his employees, stayed in his office saying he no longer had time for chatting. He was very different from the friendly, genial boss who had been known to take time daily to talk and joke with everyone in the office. Indeed, he was the kind of boss who would stop everyone's work an hour early and declare it was "party time," have some pizza delivered and just celebrate it being Friday.
He had been more than a fair boss. He had been a fun boss. Employees loved him. They didn't know the exact reasons the change, but they did understand that there was some trouble with the business. They were hurt and disappointed that he wouldn't confide in them and let them help. So, after a few weeks of watching him get worse and worse, they decided they would do something about it. They declared war on negativity and called in the big gun: the boss' wife.
Mrs. Boss, a very wise, calm, sensible woman had a plan. Soon after the boss' secretary called her and explained the situation, Mrs. Boss showed up at the office with a tote bag full of goodies. Now, it wasn't unusual for her to drop by during the day to take her husband out to lunch or bring something to him, so he wasn't all that surprised. He was a bit brusque with her for not calling ahead since he "had too much to do to stop for some nonsense." She just smiled and removed a thermal canister from her tote.
"I know it's not quite time for lunch," she told him, "but you've been so tense lately, and you left so early this morning, I decided you needed to take a break. I made my best chicken soup, and you know it cures anything." She also produced a boule of crusty bread from the depths of her that remarkable tote. He couldn't resist. It was the ultimate maternal care. Even better, when he finished his meal, Mrs. Boss massaged his shoulders and neck to help work out some of the kinks so he could go back to work more relaxed.
"Before I go, there's one more thing I brought for you," she said. She drew a small box from the tote and offered it to him. He opened it with curious anticipation and nearly dropped it when he saw its contents. Mrs. Boss had stopped by a store that supplied gag gifts and she'd brought him what looked like a pile of doggie doo-doo.
"I just wanted you to take a close look at what you've been serving your employees for the past several weeks, as compared to the kindness and concern they show you. Like me, they offer you chicken soup. This is what you've been offering them. Would you like to tell me what that's all about?"
Many men would have reacted with anger, calling what she had done a nasty trick. She knew her husband's temperament, however, and although it was shocking to him, he took it as a wake up call. They had a long talk about the financial difficulties of the business and then brought in some of the employees and explained the situation.
The employees understood his guilt and anger about having to let some of them go, after all, they were old friends. They appreciated his reluctance to lay off any of them and his assurance that he would keep them on long enough to get new jobs. Then, in this most unusual workplace with most unusual employees, the employees got together and worked out who would volunteer to go look for other employment. Everyone was sad, but everyone got on the team to work for the best outcome for the organization.
Once they knew what was the trouble, the employees knew how to deal. Some got to work looking for other jobs, some started looking at how to cut expenses, some started getting ideas for improving functions, income and cash flow that the owner hadn't considered.
Two employees found new jobs within a month and were quite pleased with their new arrangements. One went interviewing with the competition and came upon new idea that would improve business, took it back to boss and saved his own job -- which he didn't need since he'd been offered a new job. He just preferred the old one.
So, yes, this is a story with a moral: don't hide troubles and bad news from your employees. They may not have as much invested in your business as you, but they're not kids you need to protect or manipulate. They are the team you hired to make your business better. Use them and they may provide you with the resources you need to solve the difficulties. In this story, it's easy to see how a great boss can get support, but you would be astonished at the support most bosses can get just by being honest and allowing their employees to work things out with them. Oh, and don't wait until things go critical. Include them every day.