CEO Shoptalk: Doing The Bloody Work

Other day a CEO who had been a client pre-Pandemic calls me and wants to chat about the difficulties of getting folks back to the office who had been weaned from the office whilst working from home during the Pandemic and post-Pandemic, hardly a novel topic.

As I often do, I explored the basis for what was happening and I asked him about hiring, objective setting, performance appraisal, and compensation. We also discussed “quiet quitting” and its management equivalent: “quiet firing.”

WTF are we talking about here, Big Red Car?

Let’s define some terms, shall we?

Hiring — the process of injecting talent into a company through a process of defining job requirements, committing the job requirements to writing in the form of a detailed job description including near term objectives and compensation, identifying viable candidates, interviewing viable candidates, making hiring selections, presenting offers, negotiating terms, and onboarding the talent.

Objectives — the crafting of individual deliverables of work in support of the company’s tactics, strategy, mission, and vision (which implies those plans are current and coherent); there is a way to write these things and they are the basic deliverable and unit of accountability between the employer and the employee.

SMART Objectives

This is where the employer – employee relationship begins. If you fail to hire someone with a clear set of SMART objectives how will you measure performance and create accountability?

Performance Appraisal — the system for evaluating the attainment of objectives, talent development, and the comparison of performance to expectations, peers, and the market. It is also the process whereby personal development is evaluated — better, worse, the same as last year or expectations?

Performance Appraisal is also the basis for any and all compensation actions.

You may want to use the search function of this blog to see prior posts on Performance Appraisal.

Quiet Quitting — the phenomenon whereby an employee performs at the minimum level of output necessary to continue to receive a paycheck. The employee ceases to actively participate in the work unit (and the culture) and is often absent from work for specious reasons.

Quiet Firing — the phenomenon whereby an employer may attempt to motivate an employee to quit by demotion, reducing work hours, redefining job descriptions, assigning mundane work, failure to invest in training, exclusion from company activities, ceasing to appraise performance, and generally failing to support the employee.

Quiet firing may rise to the level of harassment or a hostile work environment. The benefit to management is not having to pay severance in the event the employee quits.

Flexible Work Hours — one of the outgrowths from the Pandemic is workers like working from home and employers in luring their employees back to the office are offering flexible work hours wherein an employee may spend some set number of days in the office and the balance working from home.

So what, Big Red Car?

The first observation is that companies became undisciplined in their application of their own processes during the Pandemic and have been slow to reinstitute those disciplines. This is understandable.

In this particular anecdote the CEO freely admitted they’d gotten off their own processes and were not as disciplined as they had been on hiring and performance appraisal; he also admitted there was clear evidence of quiet quitting.

It reminds me of the difference in a war time footing for the Army and a peace time footing. On a war time footing, the Army moves at the speed of light and bends any rule necessary to support the fight.

So what’s the solution, Big Red Car?

The solution is this:

 1. Evaluate your processes, update them, retrain to them, and get back to the disciplined approach you always embraced. Knock off the cobwebs and make sure every level of management is on board.

 2. Evaluate your quiet quitters and see if they are salvageable. It is my view they are not and that it is important to just excise these shirkers from the healthy body of the company. Harsh, but necessary. Do not be tempted to do missionary work here.

 3. Own up to those folks you want to get rid of and fire them whilst paying them whatever is a fair severance and put that behind you. Take the hit. You will benefit from this.

 4. Once that is done, then study your org chart and take the next six months to rebuild the team department by department gradually — do not overwhelm the culture with a wave of new hires.

 5. In the onboarding of new folks use that as an opportunity to reinforce your job descriptions, initial objectives, and the performance appraisal system.

Bottom line it, Big Red Car

Everybody got lazy and inattentive during the Pandemic and work from home became the norm. People like WFH, but the party is over, folks.

WFH was a Pandemic solution and it is time to return to the office with some flexibility if your company can attain peak performance with that arrangement.

Know it is impossible to do any of the following without people in the office and working in a positive hierarchy:

 1. Training;

 2. Leadership development;

 3. Team building;

 4. Cultural development; and,

 5. Loyalty development.

It all starts with identifying the problem, dealing with it without recriminations as to from whence it came, re-invigorating your systems, and do the hard work as noted above.

It will pay a huge dividend.

But, hey, what the Hell do I really know anyway? I’m just a Big Red Car.