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One thing I carry every workday

It has been over nine months since the last update. I have been busy. I may write an update soon. In the meantime, it occurs to me to share this strange fact: every workday, everywhere I go, I carry the final pages of Andrew Grove’s High Output Management. Lame but true.

High Output Management is a soft skills book written by an engineer-at-heart. Grove was CEO of Intel during their rise to prominence. Possibly he’s the reason you know the name Intel.

At the end of the book, he lists out homework. “You have trusted me enough to buy my book and read it. Now let me say a final thing: if you do at least 100 points worth of what you find here, you’ll be a distinctly better manager for it.”

I’ve been chipping away at his assignments since May 2012. So far I’ve earned 70 points. Every time I do an assignment, I write the date. I aspire to do one every two months. I guess the average assignment is worth ten points. So I’m doing less than two each year. Not brilliant. Here’s what I’ve done:

  • 8-21-14 What are my outputs? 0 points (I made this one up)
  • 2-25-15 Identify half a dozen new indicators for your group’s output. They should measure both quantity and quality of the output. 10 points
  • 6-20-16 Install these new indicators as a routine in your work area, and establish their regular review in your staff meetings. 20 points.
  • 10-11-15 and 12-17-15: Look at your calendar for the last week. Classify your activities as low/medium/high leverage. Generate a plan of action to do more of the high-leverage category. (What activities will you reduce?) 10 points each time
  • 5-10-12 Forecast the demand on your time for the next week. What portion of your time is likely to be spent in meetings? Which of these are process-oriented meetings? Mission-oriented meetings? If the latter are over 25 percent of your total time, what should you do to reduce them? 10 points
  • 8-13-12 List the various forms of task-relevant feedback your subordinates receive. How well can they gauge their progress through them? 10 points
  • 8-11-15 GTD reread, review, and revamp 0 points (I made this one up)

Most of this work has been done for MassLandlords. The 2012 bullets were Terrafugia.

The December 17, 2015 assignment still is not done. This is the reason why I’ve been so busy. I am trying to get all of my time into high leverage activities. I can’t be mowing the lawn. Problem solved. I can’t be coding the website. Problem solved. I can’t be answering phone calls from customers. Problem soon to be solved.

Overall, this assignment has shown me that I am the biggest problem with MassLandlords. I’m the long pole in the tent, holding everything up. I’m supporting but I’m also delaying by being integral to every process.

The work to unload has been painful. Since last winter, I terminated two employees that didn’t work out. I also lost a cofounder on a side project. I missed (or am missing) two huge opportunities that I just don’t have time for. Every setback is another sharp turn downward on the startup roller coaster.

This is why I carry Andrew Grove around with me everywhere I go. I’m not yet where I need to be. But I will learn from him and others, and I will get there.

Andrew Grove's High Output Management One More Thing

Picture taken in the orange glow of the MBTA Commuter Rail lighting.

How NOT to treat your employees

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A company I’ve done some work for in the past recently lost a major bid.  The super-boss called the entire team into a conference room and said, “You lost the bid, you’re all fired.”  Some of the team had been with the company for over thirty years.  The carnage hit multiple rungs of the ladder, from some new engineers all the way up to a vice president.  All of them had been working hard right up until the meeting.

The particulars of the situation — how the message was actually conveyed, the extent to which there were equitable severance packages, the degree to which each may have failed to perform his or her duties — matter a great deal, and because I wasn’t there, I shouldn’t pass judgment.  I can say, however, that the company culture could have grown in a petri dish.  It was the worst I’ve seen of leadership in corporate America.  The folks who were let go might rightly miss their lost paycheck, but at least they get a chance at a more ethical work environment somewhere else.

When it comes right down to it, the people associated with your business are your business.  If your customers all quit, or if your employees all leave, you’ve got nothing.  The effects of this are obvious from small-time real estate, where sole proprietorships only ever sell at book value (the cost of the house), all the way up through corporate America, where “succession planning” is a big deal.

Good companies recognize this by offering training and development.  In terms of performance reviews, outside training courses, and other self-improvement perks, employees at mid-size companies like the one I mention above probably receive over $5,000 a year in improvement-related perks.  At some companies, like UTC, benefits can be far more substantial.  My favorite example is Toyota, who (although I can’t remember where I read it) didn’t lay off anyone at their US Sienna factory and instead set them in motion on a circular assembly line, honing and improving their techniques until the recession picked up enough where they were on A-work again.

Suppose GAAP required capitalizing employee training and holding it on the books as a form of goodwill.  Then when you fired someone, you’d be forced to recognize the true impact of your decision: you’d have to write down all that training.  Talk about restructuring charges.

Suddenly “you lost the bid, you’re all fired” might not seem like such a good idea.  Maybe there’s another way to make some money with that team…

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