You Own Your Employees’ Problems, Right?

Big Red Car here.  I’ve been listening to The Boss complain how damn cold it is in NYC.  [He’s such a hot house Texan, no?  Haha, Boss, that was your choice to go hang out in a blizzard, no?]

Going to be 72F today and sunny in the ATX, Boss.  [Hahaha, this one’s on you, Boss.]

So The Boss is constantly working with his brilliant CEOs and they are constantly talking about their team members and their problems.

Problems, really, Big Red Car?

Yes, Old Sport, part of being a successful CEO is being able to identify employee problems which impact the team and which will be brought daily to the workplace.  Regardless of who “owns” these problems, they show up for duty right next to your beloved and valued employees.

The energy to solve these problems is a net loss to the energy available for your beloved team members to do their work.

Who really owns these problems?

So, you ask me, the Big Red Car:

“WTF, Big Red Car, who owns these problems?”

The bad news, Old Sport, is:

“YOU own these problems, CEO.  YOU own these problems.”

Yes, not what a brilliant CEO really wants to hear but the truth nonetheless.  No, of course, you don’t “own” them in the sense that you caused them, think of it like co-ownership in that you own the distraction and you must ante up the energy to solve or endure them.

Do not ignore this reality.

What about those “delicate” problems, Big Red Car?

Yes, Old Sport, you own those delicate problems — marriage, spouse not enthusiastic about relocation, child care, excess travel, bereavement — even when the prudent HR or legal counsel would caution distance.

This is not a call to action to pry into things but rather that when these matters present themselves to not be a Pollyanna and suggest they are not going to have an impact on the performance of your key team members.

If the guy playing shortstop is having marital problems then he is not able to focus exclusively on those hot, hard grounders coming his way at short.  You can identify completely with that outcome, no?

So what can you do?

Avoid, identify, evaluate, plan, act and solve.

1.  Avoid such problems in the hiring process.  It does seem that the more senior a hire, the greater probability of a problem coming with the hire.  No big revelation there.

Do a better job in your hiring process to test and probe for these problems.

Your senior folks — the first wave of hires after the founders — are likely to be two career families, location sensitive thereby compounding re-location implications, kids in tow.  This is particularly true when you are hiring the first top management beyond the founders.  You are hiring folks who simply may not have the passion for the company and therefore not able to balance passion with degree of difficulty.  Not everyone is an entrepreneur and being compensated in entrepreneurial satisfaction or currency.  Not everyone has a Field Marshal’s baton in their rucksack.

Pro tip:  In two career family hires, always know what is supposed to happen with the other party’s career aspirations.  Relocating from the “other” coast, know the cultural implications.  Where does Grandma live?

2.  Identify the problems as they occur and are still lizards and not dragons.  Do not let the problem grow.  Kill it in the cradle.

3.  Evaluate all possibilities and staff them completely.  Do this quickly.  No problems solve themselves at this stage.

Mom vexed because Dad is traveling a lot and she gets stuck with the kids — pick up some child care and babysitting expenses to take the pressure off Mom.  Be creative.

4.  Make a plan and get everybody on board with the approved solution.  If Mom is the voice of the problem, get Mom’s buy in quickly.  Be pragmatic.

Coax it out of your folks even if it is your idea.  Bad news:  you will become good at this because the problems will just keep on growing as you and your company scale.

5.  Act on the plan immediately and do not begrudge spending some money on it.  You are already incurring a bit of cost.  This may all just be an accounting issue at the end of the day.

6.  Do not “fire and forget”.  Make damn sure the solution actually works.  Circle back and make sure the solution worked and continues to work.

So there you have it, Old Sport.   The problem is NOT going to solve itself.  But, hey, you knew that, right?

What is the downside, Big Red Car?

The downside?  The downside?

The downside is not good:

1.  Failed new hires;

2.  Lack of productivity which infects others on the team;

3.  Undue loss of team energy including the CEO;

4.  Discontinuity on the team as relative contributions change;

5.  Loss of specific key team members — job turnover; and,

6.  Garden variety distraction.  Alignment of efforts is critical to success and it makes no difference from whence the misalignment comes, it just exacts a price.

Here is the last point:  sometimes you will have to fire someone who cannot solve their problems.  That is the tough call for the brilliant CEO but it happens.  If that is the solution — speed is your best friend.

But, hey, what the Hell do I really know anyway?  I’m just a Big Red Car but at least I’m not stuck in a blizzard in NYC.  Haha.