This past weekend I found myself engulfed in a really interesting conversation about how our words can and often times represent very different outcomes than what our actions show.
A person I know as an acquaintance of sorts, we’ll call him Carl for the purposes of this story, was sharing with me a frustration he has having with a couple of his employees. Carl owns a successful yet modest small business that does a couple million a year in revenue and serves a niche market in SoCal in the contract laboratory space. Carl’s business is small by design. He chooses to live a lifestyle of flexibility and comfort rather than cast aside those luxuries to chase for more dollars. I must admit, I envy him for that.
As Carl further explained to me his dilemma I become thoroughly intrigued and a bit puzzled on how to help him with a solution.
What would you do if you were in Carl’s shoes?
Carl has six employees, so including himself there are a total of seven employees in the business. Each employee has a specific job they oversee however because it is a small business every employee is expected to dive in when needed and lend a helping hand in other areas, even if it is outside of their specialty or normal duties. This mantra of sorts describes what Carl is trying to create as a culture within the company and people seem to really like it, or so he’s been told.
Carl shares with me that he has two employees in particular that talk often about wanting more opportunity, wanting additional responsibilities and of course wanting more money. As a side note Carl shared with me what he pays these employees and I was shocked to hear the number. He compensates his employees very well, so well that he’s probably 15-20% over standard market rates for similar roles elsewhere.
When hearing about the desire of his two employees to want to further their careers, abilities and responsibilities Carl was excited. He sat each person down individually and learned more about what they wanted, why it was important and how it aligned with their career. Carl shared with the employees how he could help get them there. This is a crucial part of the story. Not only did Carl say ‘Yes I can give you that opportunity’, but he also then said ‘I can help you along the way’.
A strategic plan was put in place for each of the two employees that gave them a clear path and support to achieve their growth goals while taking on new responsibilities. As each employee hit milestones their compensation would then reflect that. Carl believes people need to ‘do the job to get the job’ before compensation comes with it. I happen to agree wholeheartedly with him on that. People need to perform first then receive additional compensation later, not the other way around.
As each employee started down their path of learning, taking on new responsibilities and making decisions for themselves something interesting started to unfolded.
Both employees eventually, and at different times, began to falter in their efforts. Carl was hands-on with them as they had asked, offering suggestions and support however would make sure to keep an appropriate distance as to not be too involved leaving the employees to feel they didn’t have the autonomy to do it on their own.
Here’s where the really interesting part comes into play. Each employee as they were struggling to keep their commitments would start to make comments which from an outsiders’ perspective comes off as a victims mentality, not someone who is choosing to advance themselves in their careers. As time went on both employees’ attitudes, demeanor and job performance began to suffer. They didn’t show up and perform like they had prior to starting this new career journey and they didn’t help others when situations called for it.
Carl was really caught off guard by this.
Carl shared his bewilderment saying “How could someone talk so much about wanting more opportunity, more responsibility and more money to then have their actions be so different in such a short amount of time?” Carl struggled to understand it because he grew up very different. Carl’s upbringing taught him that if you wanted something you had to go out and get it for yourself, no one was going to just give it to you.
“Success should be earned!” said Carl.
Finally Carl decided to sit each employee down one-on-one to ask why their persona and performance had taken a turn for the worse. Good for you Carl – you cared enough about your employees to want to understand their situation before you made an assumption.
Carl asked each employee: “Help me understand [employee name]. Initially you had shared with me that you wanted to grow your career, learn, take on new opportunities and responsibilities. You shared with me this was important to you. How do you feel now and what has happened along the way as your actions have been very different than your words?”
Employee #1’s response: “Yah I said that and yah I want more money because I think I’m worth it but I don’t think I should have to do more responsibility. It’s not as easy as I thought. Can’t I just get paid more and keep doing what I was doing before? My friends make more money than me and I feel I should be paid more.”
Employee #2 response: “I don’t think I want more responsibility after all. It’s too hard and I don’t want to have to think about work after hours. (all employees start at 8AM and leave at 4:30PM, daily) I do need more money though because I have bills to pay and I don’t have a lot of left over money for other things.”
Carl was shocked. He didn’t even know how to respond.
How could two people want more money, more than what they’re already paid for (as mentioned they’re already paid handsomely for the job their doing) without putting in more effort along the way.
Carl’s frustrations grew because he struggled to understand his employees’ perspectives and needs as they were so very different from his own.
Carl is hoping to readdress the issue this week and come to a good resolution that is helpful to his employees, himself and the business. He still hasn’t made up his mind on how to handle the situation with both employees.
What would you do if you were in Carl’s position?
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About the Author
Travis Smith is the founder and managing director of Square-1 Engineering, a life sciences consulting firm, providing end to end technical project services to companies which design, develop and or manufacture products in Southern California. He successfully served the life sciences marketplace in SoCal for over 15 years specializing in engineering services, consulting, project outsourcing and leadership development. In 2019 he was recognized as a ‘40 Under 40’ honoree by the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce as a top leader in Orange County, CA.